By RICARDO CASTILLO
Two themes that make the news as oddities but hold great importance are now becoming laws in Mexico. Those two issues are foods content description on product labels and the entry, as of Monday, Sept. 30, of the new digital transactions system to be operated by all banks as a beginning to eliminate the use of cash in daily common purchases transactions. Let’s take these two new items one at a time.
Dishonest — or at least deceiving — labeling has been a common practice up until now in Mexico. But as of today, Oct. 1, that may take a drastic turn as the leading issue to hit the floor at the Chamber of Deputies will be a vote on labeling. The issue is being treated under the General Health Law, has been under debate since July 24, and will be voted on during this period of sessions.
The new law will make it obligatory for companies to include a readable-size label informing consumers on non-alcoholic products – read junk foods – of their content in terms of sodium, sugar and saturated fats.
During the period between last July 24 and now, wholesalers of junk foods have been protesting the new law and demanding changes in the proposed law.
Making a particularly loud noise has been the Mexican Council of Consumer Products or ConMexico, which groups up a large consortia of companies such as baking giant Bimbo, processed cereals manufacturer Kellogg’s, beverage bottler Coca-Cola Femsa and a large list of other biggies in the junk food business.
The new labeling law demands that content description be written “such as it is,” which ConMexico director (and lobbyist) Lorena Cerdán opposed, particularly in the use of modern graphic symbols to describe substance amount contents.
Lawmakers feel there is a national problem in Mexico (and how!, I must add) of overweightness and obesity, mainly among leading consumers of these products, particularly children and teenagers. For them, it is a health problem.
Naturally, industrialists are protecting their turf and feel that if they tell the truth and nothing but the truth in their labels, sales will be sorely affected.
Cerdán offered approval of labeling, but said “we want a label that generates information with dots and commas,” thus opposing graphics. She said that the label should let people discover in writing how much fat, sodium and sugar a product contains “and then describe the attributes of the product and preference in the nutrimental table.”
The law will definitely be debated. National Regeneration Movement (Morena) and majority leader Mario Delgado said that debate will be held “without pressure” from manufacturers. Most likely, he said, the law will be approved without changes because obesity is a major health concern in Mexico, and “if we don’t do something, this generation of children, our children, will be facing a shorter life expectation than ours. We could be the first generation of parents who have to bury their children,” and not vice versa, as nature demands.
The other issue that is grabbing headlines is the launching on Sept. 30 of the QR (short for Quick Response) digital payment and collection code, which is now immensely popular in China and has made the use of cash in transactions nearly extinct.
This is an endeavor launched by privately owned banks, which, after a trial period, feel that it may soon be popular in Mexico since it is “easy to use,” whatever that may mean by the not-so-digitally-educated people of the nation.
The new platform, according to an interview by daily La Jornada with the Citibanamex director general of digital transformation Rodrigo Kuri, is now feasible through an app to be applicable in a massive way in Mexico. A starter will be for customers to get used to paying and collecting with the app.
Kuri said that a group of banks got together and have set up platform programs since last July in three different medium-sized cities, namely, Tulancingo in the state of Hidalgo, La Paz in Baja California and Progreso in Yucatán.
The banks quickly learned that the leading problem they faced was explaining how QR payments and collection work with their customers.
“To be successful, we have to install infrastructure at the banks and make it available to customers,” he said. “For example, at various branches, there will be people prepared to explain how, through mobile banking, customers can join CoDi. They will show customers how to use it and how it works.” CoDi stands for digital code, in Spanish, or Código Digital.
The banks have their customer data base to start enticing customers to use CoDi. To use the CoDi system, a person must have a bank account.
The banks will be supervised by the Treasury Secretariat’s Tributary Administration System (SAT) in their management of CoDi.
For now, there’s great enthusiasm among Mexican bankers because they have a feeling that CoDi may become extremely popular in marginal rural areas, where banking is scant. It may change the outlook in these communities through greater access to banking facilities.
One thing the participating banks – the great majority – point out in the popularizing of CoDi is that the movement toward no cash use in Mexico can be spearheaded by convenience and large store chains, which by now almost universally accept debit and credit cards.
So, labeling and Código Digital are the news of the day. For sure, Mexicans did not have them last week.