Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexican Businesses Rebel against Mandatory Fees

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexican Businesses Rebel against Mandatory Fees

Article excerpt

MONICA CORDOBA is fed up.

"A payment of 320 pesos {US$105} may not seem like much," says the owner of a small cafe on Ave. Tamaulipas in Mexico City. "But it's a lot if you're getting nothing in return."

A growing number of small and large Mexican business owners are railing - and in some cases openly revolting - against federal laws requiring annual dues and membership in local chambers of commerce. The chambers are supposed to provide consulting services, tax seminars, publications, and represent their members before the Mexican government. But many owners, like Mrs. Cordoba, claim the chambers are inefficient, unresponsive, and archaic - only initiating contact with members once a year, in January, to collect dues.

The mandatory membership does strike many observers as incompatible with current government philosophy.

The mantra of the administration of economic reformer President Carlos Salinas de Gortari is "modernization." Mr. Salinas has sold off hundreds of grossly inefficient state enterprises. The Constitution has been revamped to revitalize the agricultural sector. Salinas has opened the economy up to freer trade and investment. And a battle has been launched against piracy of intellectual and industrial property. But the excesses and omissions of these chambers have not yet come in for the same reformist treatment.

Chamber membership first became a legal obligation in 1941. Their raison dtre was political, says Luis Rubio, director of the Research Center for Development, a private think tank. "It was a mechanism for the ruling party {still in power} to organize and control the private sector."

As a political tool the chambers hold some utility today. But their economic value is questionable. Many are "enormous bureacracies with no cost controls. In these times, forced membership is absurd," Mr. Rubio says.

The opposition parties say it's more than absurd. They describe it as a violation of human rights. National Action Party congressman Victor Manuel Orduna points out that Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which Mexico is a signatory), states, "nobody can be obligated to belong to an association. …

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