nancial or technical capital to upgrade to lead-free glaze,
Arroyo and other potters found themselves locked out
of new export markets in developed countries.
The FDA ruling effectively created a nontariff trade
barrier for Mexican exporters. At the same time, SMEs
faced severe constraints in information about the need
and requirements of new markets beyond their borders
and the capital to meet those demands. The challenges
illustrate the economic and technical hurdles that small
producers in developing countries face when exposed
to the global market. “We don’t want a handout from
the government,” Arroyo says, while standing beside a
large adobe kiln, his apron and hands smeared red-brown
from wet clay. “We want to earn our own living, but we
need assistance finding other markets and exporting.”
Mexican public agencies and NGOs have responded
with programs that provide tailored interventions, such
as skills training and credit, that reduce the economic
obstacles to the adoption of lead-free glaze. Assistance
with strategies to market exports has also given entrepreneurs like Arroyo a chance to adapt their industry
to changing markets and make their living. But governments and NGOs must make a greater effort to distribute information to ceramicists about the markets they
seek to enter.
Steven Samford is a PhD candidate in political science
at the University of New Mexico. His research is supported by the Social Science Research Council, National
Science Foundation and the Fulbright Program.
Uriel Arroyo (left) and David
Guzmán discuss techniques for
loading the kiln. Government
efforts are key to helping pro-
ducers adopt lead-free glaze.
According to a recent estimate, one-third of Mexicans (some 30 million) prepare and eat food from table-service items produced in traditional family workshops. The figure, admittedly conservative, was much higher before the economic reforms of the late
1980s and early 1990s, which liberalized Mexico’s trade
policies and opened its market to foreign imports.
While the FDA ruling in 1994 closed lead-based ceramics producers off to U.S. markets, Mexican producers were also losing market share at home. By the early
2000s, nearly half of all ceramic goods sold in Mexico
were imported, the majority from China. Less expensively produced, the lead-free Chinese products were
sold at prices between 10 and 40 percent lower than
the domestic variety. The crimp in the domestic market
made the need to adapt for export all the more urgent.
Enter the Fondo Nacional para el Fomento de las Artesanías (Fonart). The Mexican agency, located within the
federal Ministry of Social Development, undertook a
sector-wide effort to facilitate an upgrade to lead-free,
exportable glaze. The project was not a small one. Fonart developed a suitable lead-free, boron-based glaze
in 1996 and initiated the lead eradication program in
1998. Along with a variety of state agencies and NGOs—
most notably the Casa de las Artesanías de Michoacán
and World Bank-funded NGO Barro sin Plomo (
Ceramics without Lead)—Fonart began the task of promoting
the safer, exportable glaze to local ceramics producers.