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U.S.-Mexico Trade Fell By Over 40% In April But Optimism Remains In The Border's Busiest Port

Verónica G. Cárdenas for Texas Public Radio
FILE PHOTO-Gateway to the Americas International Bridge in Laredo.

U.S. trade with Mexico fell by over 40% this April compared to last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Laredo, the top trading port between the U.S. and Mexico, is hoping for a successful rebound.

April imports from Mexico staggered to $15.8 billion, the lowest since August 2009. Meanwhile, exports to Mexico were the lowest since February 2010. 

“Overall, what we're seeing there is that there has been a decrease of trade with Mexico, and basically, it's on both import and export of vehicles and auto parts,” said Federico Schaffler, director of the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development at Texas A&M International University.

For the Port of Laredo, the number one destination for imported motor vehicle parts, that brought a steep decline in traffic. The port’s April trade dropped by nearly 50% from last year.

It’s the result of disruptions in the auto-manufacturing supply chain from the coronavirus pandemic, Schaffler said. He added that trade for Laredo remained steady in March because production could continue with existing inventories of auto parts, but Mexico shuttered its plants in April.

“So what we've probably seen right now is that some of that inventory ran out and maybe some of the factories, the manufacturing facilities, have also run out,” he said.

That led China, which reopened its manufacturing by April, to edge out Mexico as the top U.S. trade partner for that month.

But Laredo Economic Development Director Teclo J. Garcia said trade in the border city has been rising since Mexico began reopening its plants in late May.

“These last few weeks, our numbers at our bridges, our commercial traffic numbers, are a lot better than they were four weeks ago, so we know that they’re going on the way back,” he said.

Garcia said this gives the port confidence that trade in North America is recovering ahead of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, taking effect next month. 

Schaffler thinks the port will feel the coronavirus’ blow for a while.

“I'm hopeful it should come around. Not in a week, or a couple of months. Probably, by the end of the year or something like that,” he said. “It's gonna take its toll.”

Maria Mendez can be reached at maria@tpr.org and on twitter @anxious_maria.

María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria