Mexican produce imports jump significantly at Texas ports

Produce imports from Mexico have increased substantially in recent years, up by a remarkable 15 percent last year.

Earlier this month refrigerated transport officials reported Texas had surpassed California as having the most demand for transportation and shipping services, a clear indication more Mexican imports are being channeled through Texas ports of entry than ever before.

In terms of tonnage of fruits and vegetables however, the land port in Nogales, Arizona, is still reporting slightly more volume than Texas' leading land port entry location, the international bridge at Pharr-Reynosa.

The primary reason for a statistical difference between total tonnage of fresh foods and the demand for refrigerated transport services is because not all fruits and vegetables entering the U.S. from Mexico require refrigeration.

A closer look at the overall trend for Mexican food imports reveals a deeper insight into what can be expected in the years ahead in terms of a shift in preferred shipping destinations not only for foods but also other goods manufactured across the southern border.

During the current produce season, imports through the international bridge at Pharr have increased by about 11 percent. In contrast, Mexican produce imported into the United States at Nogales, which last year represented 38 percent of total produce imported from Mexico, dropped 2 percent this year, the first solid indication Pharr is gaining ground on Nogales in its bid to take the number one spot as the busiest land port for the movement of fresh Mexican produce.

It should be noted that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market News, produce imports from Mexico have increased substantially in recent years, up by a remarkable 15 percent last year alone, most of that funneled into Texas instead of Arizona.

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In fact, the volume of produce imported from Mexico is huge. Farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, and the growth rate is substantial. And it's not just farm products gaining ground in the global marketplace.

Strong Mexico ag industry

According to export.gov, Mexico is among the top 15 world leaders in the agribusiness industry with 27,300 hectares of permanent cropland. It is also 10th in the world in terms of meat production, providing a total of 4,911 metric tons of red meat. In 2012, Mexico was rated 5th in poultry production and 3rd in egg production globally. In 2011, Mexico reached 4th place in poultry products, producing 2.8 million tons worldwide, 6th place in beef production with 1.8 million tons, and 17th in pork production with 1.2 million tons.

With its growing popularity as a food production exporter, it's not surprising that more and more food products will be heading across the border to U.S. stores, and eventually, to homes, grocers and restaurants in the United States.

While the volume of Mexican produce is slipping at the Nogales, Arizona, port of entry, statistics indicate produce imports through Texas ports are steadily increasing year after year, with the land port at Pharr leading all other Texas ports in total volume.

U.S. trade officials say the popularity of Pharr as a preferred entry point into the U.S. is largely the result of the completion of a new highway system that connects Mexico's Pacific coast to the Texas border. The ultra-modern, high speed highway cost the Mexican government billions to construct and was under construction the best part of a decade before completed. It involved construction of massive bridges across two mountain ranges including what is now North America's largest suspension bridge.

Faster and cheaper

The highway offers Mexican truckers a faster route for transportation of both refrigerated and non-refrigerated goods and provides the added benefit of cutting the distance and cost of shipping goods from the Texas Rio Grande Valley to points east and north.

One Mexican exporter says if a shipper is delivering product to the U.S. Midwest or East Coast markets, shippers not only save time, but also delivers produce in better condition and cheaper than using other land routes and entry points.

Another indication that Texas is quickly becoming the preferred destination for Mexico's exported food products is that Arizona companies with facilities in Nogales are the latest to open facilities in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. Other Nogales-based companies are contracting with warehouses and other Texas companies to send produce for East Coast and Midwest destinations.

Adding to the competitiveness of businesses in South Texas to lure Mexican exporters to the state is the Texas Legislature, which started a program in 2013 to allow overweight trucks to cross the border to speed up the process of bringing fresh produce into the United States. In May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law that provides nearly $750,000 dollars in matching funds over the next two years to reimburse the federal government for more staffing and overtime pay for federal agricultural inspectors at Texas land ports.

Under terms of the law, a new consortium made up of Texas ports can petition USDA and U.S. Customs officers to provide additional services during peak times.

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