Free Trade and Uneven Development: The North American Apparel Industry after NAFTA

By Gary Gereffi; David Spener et al. | Go to book overview

8 TexMex: Linkages in a Binational
Garment District? The Garment
Industries in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez

Robine van Dooren


Introduction

This chapter describes the organization of garment production in the border cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad (Cd.) Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. As is widely acknowledged, El Paso has occupied a unique position in the U.S. garment industry due to, among other things, the dominance of jeans production in the city’s apparel sector (Mclntyre 1955; van Dooren and van der Waerden 1997; Chapter 7 in this book). The specialization in standardized garments has, since the mid-1990s, created great difficulties for the “Jeans Capital of the World” because of the vulnerability of these types of products to international price competition. However, the fact that El Paso’s neighboring city across the border, Cd. Juárez, houses a considerable number of garment companies producing in a relatively low-wage environment leads one to expect to find a cross-border reconfiguration of the commodity chain and, accordingly, a cross-border division of labor. The obvious cost advantage to dividing production between highly laborintensive assembly activities in Cd. Juárez and capital-intensive activities in El Paso should lead to the development of complementary, mutually beneficial cross-border linkages between different types of firms on both sides of the border, thus possibly even giving rise to a transborder industrial district.

This chapter investigates the nature and relative importance of local and transborder interfirm linkages, drawing on insights from new international division-of-labor theory as well as the global commodity chain and industrialdistrict approaches. The competitive pressures that El Paso is experiencing and the wage differential between El Paso and Cd. Juárez make the El Paso–Cd. Juárez region an exceptionally interesting environment for research into the effects of globalization on the development of regional garment-production networks.

In pursuing the description and explanation of transborder linkages in the garment industry, I have organized this chapter in the following manner. First, I examine the industries in both border cities in terms of their roles in the Mexican and U.S. garment industries and of the government policy affecting these sectors. I provide an overview of the characteristics of

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