By  on April 13, 1994

NEW YORK -- A representative from the Mexican Consulate here has urged U.S. and Canadian shippers to be patient as Mexico works to improve its Customs operations, especially for textiles and apparel.

"We are working very hard in modernizing our operations," said Laura Alamillo, one of the consulate's directors of rules and implementation for the North American Free Trade Agreement. She said she could not predict when Mexico's Customs would be up to the standards of the U.S. and Canada.

"But I ask all of you, please have patience with us," she said. "There are several hundred facets of textiles and apparel, especially under rules of origin. That will take some getting used to."

Alamillo made her request before 50 executives, representing various industries, at a "Doing Business Under NAFTA" seminar at New York University.

The discussion was co-sponsored by the accounting firm Goldstein Golub Kessler & Co., here, and the World Trade Club of New York.

The seminar, a primer on NAFTA, covered such subjects as customs implementation, the harmonized commodity description and coding system and rules of origin and how to complete an exporter's certificate of origin.

Alamillo cited the need for Mexico to revamp its industrial infrastructure, educate its customs representatives on all aspects of the trade pact and make Mexican business leaders aware of the do's and don'ts of NAFTA.

"The trade agreement between Canada and the U.S. has been here for five years, and that has given representatives from both sides time to look at the problems and challenges of policing such an agreement," Alamillo said.

"Although there have been instances of products being held at the border, oftentimes unnecessarily, we are working on the problem," she added.

In an interview after her discussion, Alamillo said Mexican industry is currently spending millions of dollars in retooling computer systems "and is spending more time learning what customs officials will be looking for."

She said, for example, that the average official might not be aware of the differences between a polyester and cotton blend and a polyester, cotton and Lycra spandex fabric.

Alamillo also said U.S. firms have already expressed dismay over the time it has taken some customs documents in Mexico to be processed."More than half of the time, we have expedited the paperwork," Alamillo said of the 1,500 Mexican customs officials. "I don't doubt that there won't be some errors made, or there will be a lot of time taken to get items through. But it will get better."

Jeffrey Konzet, a Customs representative, took issue with critics who claim his agency won't be able to police the borders due to the complexity of rules of origin on textiles and apparel.

"Drugs are a major concern at the border, but that doesn't mean we won't be looking very closely to make sure textiles and apparel conform to the guidelines," Konzet said.

"When you have something like the rules of origin, it's always an incentive for people to try and get things into the country illegally," he added. "We keep finding things such as illegal transshipments, falsified documents and illegally marked invoices, so we are doing the job."

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