In February 2019, I was privileged to have the opportunity to participate in a Canadian trade mission to Monterrey, Mexico with the Organization of Women in International Trade Toronto chapter. The mission was facilitated by the Canadian Trade Commissioners’ Service in cooperation with the Ministry of Economy and Labour of the State of Nuevo León, EGADE Business School Technológico de Monterrey, and numerous other organizations. This mission was the first initiative out of an MOU signed by the OWIT-Toronto and OWIT-Monterrey chapters in March, 2017 in the presence of the Canadian Minister of International Trade and the Consul General of Canada in Monterrey.
The purpose of the mission was to encourage female business owners, professionals, executives and service providers to export and expand globally, and to showcase the contribution of women in international trade and in historically male-dominated industry sectors, in both Mexico and Canada. The 10 delegates participated in conferences and meetings with local industry clusters, government and educational organizations, tours of various research and development facilities, and a visit to the ExpoManufactura trade show. We also had individual business-to-business meetings with potential customers, suppliers and business partners in the Monterrey area of interest to our respective
organizations. Here are some of my key takeaways from the mission:
- Women are a historically untapped resource in manufacturing and industrial sectors.
According to data from the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), women currently represent only between 4.4%-15.7% of jobs in industrial, electrical and construction trades, maintenance, equipment operations, transportation and heavy equipment, and machine operation. Technology and automation have lowered physical barriers to participation, making these industrial roles more accessible for women. Our expanding involvement is key to growth in these areas, in light of growing labour shortages in high skill positions. The challenge is encouraging increased participation by women, through skills training and mentorship as well as promoting these roles and STEM subjects to be seen as desirable career paths for young girls. CME's We Can Do It! Campaign is a step along this road.
- Mexico, and Monterrey and the State of Nuevo León in particular, is a high value market for Canadian manufacturing businesses to consider expanding into.
Nuevo León is Mexico’s manufacturing hub, its top destination for foreign direct investment and has the highest GDP per capita. Situated in the north of the country and connected with major North American rail and highway networks, the region has developed dramatically since the advent of the original NAFTA. Its business culture is similar from that of Canada and the United States and the population is highly educated and technically skilled relative to other regions. There are also surprisingly widespread
levels of English spoken by the workforce, and there are many organizations, both private and public, set up to help foreign investors establish operations in the region. More information about the region is available on the Nuevo León Ministry of the Economy's website.
- Trade diversification is more important than ever.
The current uncertain trade climate has sent a clear message that diversification is essential, particularly for businesses with international supply chains or customer base. Mexico has free trade agreements with Canada two times over: under the NAFTA (and its soon-to-be successor USMCA / CUSMA / T-MEC) and, as of December 30, 2018, the CPTPP. The CPTPP in particular opens up opportunities for cross-integration of Canada-Mexico supply chains with partners in Asia. But free trade agreements are only valuable for economies to the extent that businesses use them. The skilled advisors at Bennett Jones can help Canadian importers and exporters explore and leverage the opportunities under these agreements, and to set up the necessary commercial and tax structures to make expanding internationally a smooth and profitable experience.
Jessica B. Horwitz is an Associate at Bennett Jones.