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Increase in imports creates boom in container shipping industry, leaving Mexican ports struggling to keep up

Last updated on April 8, 2021

Tampico, Tamaulipas — Due to the increase in imports into Mexico, the business of container handling has also increased dramatically. The boom in various industries, along with the operation of empty containers, has led to a double-digit growth for container companies, especially in ports such as Tupxan and Tampico.

The movement of containers responds to a shortage of containers due to excess demand, mainly derived from a boom in exports from Asia. The rebound in industries such as oil and food, coupled with the over-demand for containers to supply the imports accumulated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to ports such as Tuxpanb in Veracruz and Tampico, Tamaulipas, having increased the double digit container operation.

Meanwhile, Manzanillo, the largest port in the country, struggles with its capabilities to continue operating more cargo.

In Tuxpan, container operation shot up 75 percent between January and February of this year compared to the same period of 2020. The greatest increase occurred in imports (79 percent) while exports grew 70.5 percent, although with a greater operation of empty containers reaching 42 percent of the total.

Part of this growth is explained by the boom in manufacturing and energy industries close to the region, says Pedro Canabal, an academic at the Faculty of Business at the Universidad Panamericana and a partner at the firm Baker Tilly International.

“Tuxpan is very close to Veracruz, which operates at maximum capacity and is also close to Bajío, an aerospace and automotive industry hub that has been intensifying its use. We also know that there is intensive use by Pemex, which has led to accelerated growth in Tuxpan,” he explained.

In Tampico, where the movement of containers almost doubled in the first two months of the year (growing 95.6 percent), leading to a little more than half of what is operated being empty. This situation, combined with a lack of ground transportation to relieve port yards, also begins to bring additional costs.

The world faces an over-demand for containers that is already affecting Mexico.

“We have had problems to remove the cargo. This worries us a lot because more storage is paid and also costs due to delays in the use of containers,” said Fernando Ruíz Harte, general director of the Mexican Business Council for Foreign Trade, Investment and Technology.

Faced with the expectation that this problem persists, and with the advantages of the T-MEC, importers have the opportunity to install their production in the country to shorten the movement of goods and supplies, a practice known as nearshoring.

“The attractiveness of having plants and production lines in Asia is no longer attractive. We are seeing a repatriation to the continent, especially with the T-MEC, and that, in the medium term, will surely help to have an outlet that leads to stabilization in the ports. It does not mean that it is going to vent completely, but combined with a rail strategy, it could detonate its use,” said Canabal.

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