CEPAL Review

Cepal Review is the leading journal for the study of economic and social development issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. Edited by the Economic Commission for Latin America, each issue focuses on economic trends, industrialization, income distribution, technological development and monetary systems, as well as the implementation of economic reform and transfer of technology. Written in English and Spanish (Revista de la Cepal), each tri-annual issue offers approximately 12 studies and essays undertaken by authoritative experts or gathered from conference proceedings.

English Spanish

The in-bond assembly industry and technical change

This article analyses the export offensive made by Mexico, Central America and some Caribbean countries since the mid-1980s. Notwithstanding the differences between them, in all the countries in question this offensive has been aimed mainly at the United States market, has been stimulated by import tariff privileges and other incentives, and has been based on poorly-paid assembly operations: i.e., it involves the in-bond assembly or “maquila” industries. This study seeks to determine whether these industries contribute to local technological development. The answer, based on a questionnaire sent to 75 maquila firms in six countries, must be “yes”. The maquila industry uses production techniques close to the best international practices –something matched only in a very few domestic manufacturing firms– and it helps to train human resources and introduce modern concepts of organization and management. Moreover, it makes intensive use of unskilled labour. Consequently, in order to progress towards sustainable development with social equity it would appear to be necessary to turn the maquila industry into an increasingly competitive activity by increasing its productivity and the added value of its products. The evolution of maquila industries in the direction of activities using a more highly skilled labour force is perfectly possible, as the case of Mexico shows, and it will become unavoidable when pressures on the labour market cause real wages to rise, as in Costa Rica. This will not happen automatically, however, and even less so in countries that lack institutions to support that process.

English Spanish

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