How Will the Shift from NAFTA to USMCA Affect the Auto Industry?

And why does Ford support the deal, even if it is going to make Mexican manufacturing more expensive?

Written by Erick Estrada

Now that North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), how has it changed besides in name?

Owen Stuart, analyst from Freedonia Focus Reports, says that the USMCA will implement four measures affecting automakers:

1. While NAFTA originally required automakers to use 62.5% of North American-made parts in their cars to be imported duty free, the new agreement gradually raises the bar to 75% by 2023, which will incentivize automakers to increase the amount of North American parts they use in their cars and light trucks.

2. The USMCA also mandates that automakers manufacture 40% of their motor vehicles in facilities where assembly workers are earning at least US$16 an hour. While average wages are even higher than that for auto assembly workers in Canada and the U.S., they are not in Mexico, where a number of U.S. automakers have shifted production in recent years to take advantage of the lower costs.

3. Furthermore, Mexican government authorities are required to allow workers to form collective bargaining units, supporting a more union-friendly regulatory environment.

4. Finally, the agreement includes side letters from the U.S. to the Mexican and Canadian governments promising exemptions from potential future tariffs imposed by the U.S. on some motor vehicles and auto parts, specifically 2.6 million Mexican-made passenger vehicles, all Mexican light trucks, and US$108 billion and US$32.4 billion dollars worth of auto parts from Mexico and Canada, respectively.


Stuart says that the provisions of the new trade deal are expected to ultimately raise production costs for North American automakers.

First, as Mexican factories typically pay workers much lower wages than workers in the U.S.—and workers in Mexico have less power to negotiate pay—the cost of manufacturing auto parts in Mexico will rise as worker wages and unionization increase to remain in compliance with the agreement.

Secondly, as the agreement incentivizes automakers to manufacture more car parts in North America, reliance on inexpensive parts sourced from overseas will decrease, which will also drive up production costs. The deal may even support a shift in auto-part production from Mexico and Canada to the U.S., as the majority of auto manufacturing plants are located in the U.S., and companies prefer to keep parts sources near assembly plants to minimize supply chain delays.

The new trade deal will force manufacturers to choose whether to:

·         Absorb the higher costs as lost margin

·         Renegotiate part supply deals to pass costs to suppliers

·         Raise finished good prices to pass costs to consumers

·         Change product mix to make offerings less expensive

Most likely, automakers will implement some combination of the above.

Nevertheless, if prices increase do occur, more consumers will delay new automobile purchases or buy used cars, reducing new car demand. Given that the U.S. is already preparing to shoulder the costs of $200 billion in new tariffs on Chinese products, a break for consumers isn’t likely anytime soon.

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