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Port Laredo slips back to #2 amid tariff threats and border slowdowns

Laredo’s historic reign as the top United States trade port was short-lived, as the Port of Los Angeles rebounded from its lowest monthly total in three years, enabling it to once again lay claim to the number 1 ranking among U.S. ports.

“In April, imports into the Port of Los Angeles recovered from the worst monthly total since March 2016,” said Ken Roberts in a June 7 Forbes article. “While Port Laredo’s trade had increased in March, the Port of Los Angeles’ imports had fallen $2.67 billion. It was another sign that the U.S.-China trade war, with the 25 percent tariffs President Donald Trump imposed on Chinese imports and retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports, was having an effect.”

Port Laredo achieved the number 1 spot for the first time in its 168-year history in March. It was number 1 among all U.S. airports, seaports and border crossings based on container volume and cargo value by a margin of $400 million over the Port of Los Angeles, according to data from the U.S. Census.

In March, Port Laredo processed more than $20 billion in trade value, while the Port of Los Angeles slipped to $19 billion for the month. The Port of Los Angeles slipped largely due to the effect of the 25 percent tariffs President Trump imposed on Chinese imports and retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports.

“From here, Port Laredo will be hard-pressed to recapture the number 1 ranking, though a worsening of the U.S.-China trade war to engulf the second half of the $500 billion-plus U.S. imports from China might make that possible,” Roberts said.

Laredo-based customs broker Arturo Dominguez also said Laredo achieved the top spot because of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.

“This is the effect of the tariff wars that we had with China, because of this we became the number 1 port in the United States,” Dominguez said in an interview with Laredo-based KGNS-TV.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz remains upbeat about the port’s future, stating that Laredo achieved the top spot during the period when wait times at the World Trade Bridge were six to 10 hours.  

In April, President Trump diverted several hundred U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents from Laredo’s port of entry to deal with thousands of migrants flooding border crossings across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Shifting CBP agents caused wait times at international crossings to sky-rocket.

The Laredo Customs District (where Port Laredo is located) has four bridges crossing the Rio Grande River, which serves as part of the natural border between Texas and Mexico. Laredo also has a railroad bridge that crosses into Mexico.

One of Laredo’s bridges, the World Trade Bridge, is limited to only commercial vehicles. An estimated 14,000 trucks per day cross in both directions between Nuevo Laredo and Laredo, according to the Texas Association of Business.

The city of Laredo has a population of roughly 260,000 people. Nueva Laredo – its sister city across the border – has a population of 373,000 people.

Saenz said to keep Laredo as one of the top trade ports in the U.S., the city must find ways to increase “the throughput at World Trade Bridge.”

On May 1, Laredo began the first phase of a project that includes a paved lane for empty trailers to run directly from the World Trade Bridge through the area formerly known as Inspiration Point under the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program for shippers. The project will eventually expand to four lanes, but will begin with one lane and will utilize mobile processing technology and a non-intrusive imaging system for spot compliance checks.

“This project will significantly improve our trade operations at World Trade Bridge as we work to expand Port Laredo even further,” Saenz said. “I thank CBP for working with the city on these ambitious endeavors that will allow us to compete globally in the trade industry.”

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is the Cross-Border Freight Market Reporter for FreightWaves.com. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1999. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas.

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