As Mexico prepares to publish this month proposed labeling requirements for food and nonalcoholic drinks and product safety information, there are growing concerns about regulatory enforcement of such requirements.
Industries and parties affected will be allowed to comment on the proposed regulations, scheduled to go into effect later in the year. The decision then must be made as to where compliance will be enforced - at the border or on the store shelves.Unlike most other nations, Mexico has the unique requirement that all imports must be processed by a licensed Mexican-born customs broker. Unlike most countries, the brokers charge a percentage of the value of the goods instead of a flat fee. The brokers assume co-liability for the import.
Since brokers assume co-liability, they usually insist on inspecting products and documentation at forwarding operations they have established in U.S. border cities.
U.S. exporters and trade experts fear the new labeling rules may be one more responsibility handed over to the brokers or Mexican customs officials - potentially creating further delays in an already slow and expensive border- crossing process.
"What winds up happening is you're just giving another tool to some guy at Customs to hold you up," one trade source said.
Officials at the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico prefer to see enforcement through random checks on store shelves in Mexico.
Some U.S. distributors and exporters also fear that requirements for Spanish labeling may be more trouble than is warranted by the size of the Mexican market.
However, in an interview last week, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari defended the pending requirements as necessary protection for Mexican consumers.
"We have to protect the interest of Mexican consumers," he said, suggesting his nation's 80 million-plus citizens make up a sizeable market.
"The 10th-largest market (in the world) is not that small," he said.