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Sony Questions Mexico Plant Safety

May 12, 2000

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ When a top Sony official suggested the company might pull out of Mexico because of lawlessness, officials from the rest of the border assembly industry said they had bigger worries than the constant reality of crime.

During a meeting with President Ernesto Zedillo, Shin Takagi, the president of Sony Corp.’s Mexico subsidiary, said Monday that crime was so great his company might consider leaving Mexico. Sony employs 13,000 people at assembly-for-export plants _ known as maquiladoras _ in Tijuana and other cities.

His comments came after the kidnappings of two Japanese and the slaying of another Japanese executive over the last four years.

Other executives of maquiladoras said labor and tax costs _ not security _ were their biggest problems.

``We’re more concerned about the regulatory framework,″ said Donato Luis Donato Nava, director of the maquiladora association in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Japanese companies are concentrated in the Tijuana area, where crime is high. Their executives there have been known to take extensive security measures, including mounting video cameras in the back of their cars to tape anyone who might be following them.

U.S. and European executives tend to be more relaxed. Thousands of Americans live on the U.S. side of the border and drive to work at the plants each day on the Mexican side.

``Our security training is much the same as it is in the United States or other countries where we are present,″ said Mike Hissam, an American executive for Delphi Automotive Systems, one of Mexico’s largest maquiladoras in Ciudad Juarez. That largely consists of telling executives: ``Think safety, practice safety, make a safe choice.″

Japanese firms may be particularly sensitive to the problem because the three most publicized cases _ the April kidnapping of an executive’s daughter, the killing of a businessman in an attempted car theft in 1999 and the 1996 kidnapping of the president of Sanyo Video Inc. America _ all involved Japanese.

Most of the suspects arrested in the April kidnapping were guards at the executive’s own tire plant in central Mexico. The 8-year-old girl reportedly was released after her father paid a $2 million ransom.

Yasuki Sato, press attache for the Japanese Embassy in Mexico City, said crime was a major concern for Japanese companies in Mexico, ``but that’s true in every country.″

Sato said crime seems to be a particular concern for his countrymen in Tijuana, where gangland-style killings have become frequent. Rather than move plants to another country, Japanese firms may shift production away from Tijuana.

Carlos Rosetti, spokesman for the National Maquiladora Industry Council, said Japanese companies have announced plans for new investment in the state of Coahuila, 250 miles south of the border, where labor is more plentiful and the crime rate is lower.

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