The Amazon warehouse in the middle of a Mexican slum

In recent days, a photo of a new Amazon logistics center built in Tijuana, Mexico, close to a slum, has been circulating and has been extensively commented online. In the photo, posted on Twitter by Mexican photographer Omar Martinez, stands out the stark contrast between the new warehouse of one of the largest multinationals in the world and the poverty of dilapidated housing in the outskirts of Tijuana, one of the largest in Mexico. The photo has been described by many as paradoxical, or as a blatant representation of the economic inequalities due to the Western capitalist model, but there are other stories behind the recent construction of the warehouse, which have to do with Amazon’s interests in circumventing duties on products imported from China.

Tijuana is Amazon’s sixth logistics center in Mexico, but its peculiarity is that it is the first to be built in a city on the border with the United States. Tijuana is in fact located about 20 km from San Diego, California, and is well known for the wall that the United States built along its border in the 1990s to prevent irregular migrants from entering the country. The reason Amazon decided to build a logistics center in Tijuana was explained on Twitter by Charmaine Chua, a teacher of global studies at the University of California.

According to Chua, to understand the importance of the center of Tijuana, one must first of all know that of the industrial area of ​​the so-called Inland Empire, a huge territory in Southern California which over the years has become one of the most important logistics hubs in the United States, thanks to the advantageous prices of the many vacant lands and the strategic position for transport. This is where the warehouses of many of the largest US and world companies are based, and of course also of Amazon.

However, the centrality of the Inland Empire trade has changed over the last few years, due to the trade war between the United States and China and the imposition of tariffs on Chinese products decided by the administration of former US President Donald Trump. Importing Chinese products into the United States has become disadvantageous for companies – despite the “truce” reached in January 2020 – and Amazon has therefore decided to open a new logistics center in Mexico, right on the border with the United States, in order to bypass the problems derived from duties.

The Tijuana center is not used to supply the Mexican market, like the other logistics centers in the country, but directly to the United States. At the same time as the one in Tijuana, another large logistics center was opened in Otay Mesa, an area south of San Diego, which is just a 24-minute drive away from the first.

The products then arrive from China to Tijuana, and then from there they are sent across the border without having to pay customs duties, absent for goods worth less than 800 dollars. The transport of goods across the border was further simplified by the Free Trade Agreement signed between Canada, Mexico and the United States of America in 2019 (USMCA), which removed the requirement for product inspections at customs.

Another critical aspect of the Tijuana logistics center is the conditions of the workers. According to an investigation by Reuters, in fact, in the Mexican logistics centers Amazon workers, often employees of contractors, would often be forced to work overtime and in some cases fired without receiving any compensation.

Responding to criticism of Tijuana’s new logistics center, Amazon spokesperson Marisa Vano told the site Vice that Amazon has created more than 15,000 jobs across the country since its arrival in Mexico and that the new center will create 250 new jobs for the local community. “Tijuana is one of the most important cities in northern Mexico and our presence will enable us to generate hundreds of jobs, benefiting both the local community and our customers in the region. […] Investments like this help these areas to grow and build a better future ».

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