Dynamist Blog

What Wal-Mart Did to Mexican Detergent

This NBER abstract caught my eye:

Openness and Industrial Response in a Wal-Mart World: A Case Study of Mexican Soaps, Detergents and Surfactant Producers by Beata Smarzynska Javorcik, Wolfgang Keller, James R. Tybout - #12457 (ITI PR IO)


This paper uses a case study approach to explore the effects of NAFTA and GATT membership on innovation and trade in the Mexican soaps, detergents and surfactants (SDS) industry. Several basic findings emerge. First, the most fundamental effect of NAFTA and the GATT on the SDS industry was to help induce Wal-Mart to enter Mexico. Once there, Walmex fundamentally changed the retail sector, forcing SDS firms to cut their profit margins and/or innovate. Those unable to respond to this new environment tended to lose market share and, in some cases, disappear altogether. Second, partly in response to Walmex, many Mexican producers logged impressive efficiency gains during the previous decade. These gains came both from labor-shedding and from innovation, which in turn was fueled by innovative input suppliers and by multinationals bringing new products and processes from their headquarters to Mexico. Finally, although Mexican detergent exports captured an increasing share of the U.S. detergent market over the past decade, Mexican sales in the U.S. were inhibited by a combination of excessive shipping delays at the border and artificially high input prices (due to Mexican protection of domestic caustic soda suppliers). They were also held back by the major re-tooling costs that Mexican producers would have had to incur in order to establish brand recognition among non-Latin consumers, and in order to comply with zero phosphate laws in many regions of the United States.

If, like me, you hate the clunky interface and the $5 fee for NBER papers, you can find a downloadable copy of the paper here. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but the story accords with others I've heard. It's yet another example of why Wal-Mart (and NAFTA) is the essence of evil in certain quarters: The company may raise living standards for the many, but it does so by shaking up long-established institutions and industries. Too much dynamism!

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