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Laredo Falls To 4th Busiest U.S. Port As Auto Trade Slows

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Verónica G. Cárdenas for Texas Public Radio
File Photo - Aerial view of the World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas.

Laredo became the busiest port of entry for trade in the U.S in 2019. But the coronavirus pandemic has cost the border city that title.

Laredo now ranks in fourth place, behind the Port of Los Angeles, and the Chicago O’Hare and  John F. Kennedy international airports, according to U.S. trade numbers from World City for the first six months of 2020.

Laredo Economic Development Director Teclo J. Garcia said that the U.S’s tariff war with China catapulted Laredo to the number one spot through increased trade with Mexico last year. But this year, the port has been hit hard by manufacturing disruptions in the automotive industry.

“If that doesn’t go well for us or for Mexico, it’s going to hurt us but not just us, all the manufacturers across the country that are accepting trade from Mexico and the car lots across the country taking cars,” he said. “And I’ve already heard that from a few car dealers, that they’re short on vehicles.”

In San Antonio, Toyota’s production workers are working overtime to try to keep up with the demand of its Tacoma and Tundra trucks after closing down for seven weeks in the spring.  

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at the auto publication Edmunds, said most automakers are struggling with inventory because of coronavirus shutdowns.

“They have to produce more vehicles to kind of make up for all of that lost time that was a hundred percent dead and then some of that ramp up time that they needed to kinda get everything working again,” she said.

Garcia sees the continued demand for cars as a bright spot. He’s also grateful Laredo has braved the coronavirus’ blow better than some of Texas’ other ports of entry.

Laredo’s trade has fallen by almost 23% from last year, but El Paso’s has decreased by nearly 50%. Both Eagle Pass and Houston’s trade dropped by about 20%, and Pharr’s trade fell by nearly 16%. 

With almost $90 billion in imports and exports through June, Laredo is the busiest port in Texas. The Port of Houston’s trade is at about $64 billion, and Brownsville, El Paso, Pharr, Del Rio and Eagle Pass and other Texas ports are at $59 billion combined, Garcia said.

Through June, the top five exports for the Port of Laredo have been auto parts and gasoline and the top five imports have been commercial and passenger vehicles, auto parts, computers and cell phones, according to World City.

Garcia said he also expects the new U.S. Mexico Canada trade agreement to help Laredo’s trade grow within the next few years.

“I don’t think we can consistently remain on top, but that’s okay,” he said. “So as long as we get back to a sense of normalcy, and then try to create more jobs and opportunities in Laredo, it’s okay if we’re number two or three or four, so long as we continue to grow our economy.”

Maria Mendez can be reached at Maria@tpr.org and on Twitter at @anxious_maria. She is a corps member of Report For America.

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