Employment and wage effects of trade liberalization : the case of Mexican manufacturing
In 1985, after decades of an import-substitution industrial strategy, Mexico initiated a radical liberalization of its external sector. Between 1985 and 1988, import licensing requirements were scaled back to a quarter of earlier levels, reference prices were removed, and tariff rates on most products were substantially reduced. By 1989, Mexico was one of the most open economies in the developing world. Adjusting to trade liberalization required the reallocation of resources between sectors and entailed substantial dislocation of workers. The author analyzes how Mexico's trade liberalization (1985-87) affected employment and wages in indusry, focusing on how it affected average employment and earnings rather than on the link between trade and relative wages. She examines the tradeoff between wage and employment adjustment, identifies which labor groups benefited more from liberalization, and tries to associate changes in employment and wages directly with measures of change in trade protection, rather than link them to changes in imports and exports (which is more common). The author also finds that reductions in quota coverage and tariff levels are associated with moderate reductions in firm-level employment. A 10-point reduction in tariff levels (between 1985 and 1990) is associated with a 2- to 3- percent decline in employment in Mexico. Changes in quota average appear to have no discernible effect on wages, but reduction in tariff levels are associated with increases in average wages. This seems to reflect improved productivity in the reformed industries, which may be related to a shift toward the use of more skilled workers. There seems to have been a slight shift in the skill mix in favor of nonproduction workers. This was paralleled by a sharper increase in the wage differential between skilled and unskilled workers. The wages and employment of skilled production workers were significantly more responsive to changes in protection levels than those of nonproduction workers - perhaps partly because production workers were more heavily concentrated in the industries in which protection levels were greatly reduced.
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