Byline: Jim Ostroff with contributions from Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — A group of U.S. retailers is scheduled to meet today in Mexico City to again try to convince Mexican trade officials to relax a complex import requirement that has already delayed by several months the entry of one major American retailer into the country.
At issue is a Mexican regulation that took effect last September, requiring Far Eastern-made goods imported into Mexico via a third country, such as the U.S., to carry the original certificate of origin. These certificates are taken by U.S. Customs officials, and to date, Mexico has balked at permitting other types of certification.
American retailers, under the aegis of the National Retail Federation, met three times last fall with Mexican trade officials, but were not able to resolve the situation. The retailers aver it is not cost effective for them to import a relatively small number of goods directly to Mexico for their operations there.
Currently, they import goods, which are consigned to centralized U.S. warehouses for distribution here and into other nations.
J.C. Penney last month decided to postpone from March until May the opening of two stores in Mexico, citing delays caused by meeting Mexico’s country-of-origin rules.
In today’s meeting, the retailers again will make their case, this time with Raul Ramos, the newly appointed industrial policy secretary at Mexico’s Commerce agency, known by its Spanish acronym, SECOFI. Scheduled to make the flight to Mexico City and meet with Ramos are officials with Dillards de México, Edison Bros. Stores, Penney’s, Kmart, Sears de México and Woolworth Mexicana.
Also in the entourage will be Peter Mangione, president of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America.
Robert Hall, an NFR vice president who has organized the previous retailer missions to Mexico to discuss the origin certificate issue and will be there again today, was not sanguine about a quick settlement of the matter.
“Clearly, the Mexican turmoil experienced the last few months may color the mood of the Mexican officials,” Hall said. But, he added, “we remain optimistic that we can push toward a resolution.”
William Haviland, president, Dillards de México, which plans to open its first store in Mexico in October, said given the country’s current economic crisis, it is unclear how the Mexican government will address retailers’ concerns over the certificates.
“Obviously the government, with their trade imbalance, isn’t looking to increase imports,” Haviland said.
More blunt still was an apparel industry executive who requested anonymity. “The origin certificate situation is part of a larger problem with a government that is protectionist,” the official said. “It does not want to make it easy to bring goods into Mexico to compete with goods manufactured in Mexico.”
Dillard’s Haviland, though, said he believes “within six months, when we are at a point of ordering merchandise, I think this situation will all be cleared up.”
— Fairchild News Service