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The top US-Mexico business stories of 2023

Headlines include Mexico becoming US’ leading trading partner and the peso’s rise in value

Mexico continues to solidify its place as the United States’ top trading partner in 2023, ranking No. 1 in two-way trade nine out of the past 10 months. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

It’s been a busy year for cross-border trade, with everything from Mexico replacing China as the top U.S. trading partner to Tesla’s announcement that it would build a $5 billion electric vehicle plant in the Mexican city of Monterrey.

Other major headlines include the Mexican peso’s appreciation over the past year, nearshoring’s growth in northern and central Mexico, as well as cargo theft continuing to cause problems for commercial transporters across the country.

As 2023 comes to an end, here’s a look back at five of the biggest stories. 

Mexico is biggest US trading partner in 2023 

Mexico continued to solidify its place as the United States’ top trading partner in 2023, surpassing China and Canada in two-way trade.

From January through October, Mexico’s trade with the U.S. rose 2.57% year over year to $672.59 billion, according to a WorldCity analysis of the latest Census Bureau data.

Canada ranked second in trade with the U.S. through the first 10 months of the year, totaling $648 billion in two-way trade. China ranked third at $480 billion.

Mexico was the United States’ top trade partner in October, with two-way commerce totaling $72.8 billion. It’s the 10th time in the past 11 months that Mexico ranked No. 1 in total trade with the U.S. (Read two of FreightWaves’ articles here and here.)

Cars, commercial trucks and auto parts are the top commodities traded and transported between the U.S. and Mexico. Other goods that flow between the two countries include everything from oil and gasoline to computer chips, computer parts, TVs, medical devices, industrial machinery, corn, tomatoes, berries, avocados, potatoes, beef and pork.

Tesla announces $5 billion electric vehicle factory in Mexico

In March, electric automaker Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) announced it would build a $5 billion factory in the Mexican city of Monterrey

The news was hailed by Mexican authorities as the one of the biggest wins for its manufacturing sector in years.

“The richest man on earth trusted Nuevo Leon, Mexico, for his new gigafactory and his next generation vehicle. The future is bright,” tweeted Samuel Garcia, governor of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. 

Monterrey is the capital and largest city of the northeastern state, which is located about 140 miles from Laredo, Texas.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the plant would produce a new line of electric vehicles and would start production in 2025.

Tesla CEO Elon recently said the factory in Monterrey, Mexico, may take longer to construct than originally planned as the company faces pressure from interest rates and the global economy. (Image: Tesla)

Musk recently said the Monterrey factory may take longer to construct as the company faces pressure from interest rates and the global economy.

“I think we want to just get a sense for what the global economy is like before we go full tilt on the Mexico factory. I’m worried about the high interest rate environment that we’re in,” Musk said during the company’s third-quarter earnings call with analysts in October.

Musk recently told automotive industry veteran Sandy Munro the company’s upcoming $25,000 EV car will be put into production first at its plant in Austin, Texas, then in Mexico, once the Monterrey facility is completed.

Mexico is poised for growth through nearshoring 

With shifts in global supply chains and ongoing political tensions between the U.S. and China, Mexico has benefited from nearshoring and reshoring efforts by manufacturers in recent years.

Nearshoring is the relocation of production and manufacturing operations from one country to another that is closer to the final consumer, in this case the United States.

Mexico attracted more than $106 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) announcements during the first nine months of 2023, according to the Mexican government. More than 40% of the FDI investments ($42 billion) originated from U.S.-based companies opening facilities in Mexico.

“From January through November, the private sector made 363 investment announcements in our country, creating 226,792 new jobs, 42% of which are associated with the automotive industry,” Mexico’s Ministry of Economy posted on Facebook

Mexico offers transportation options that are shorter and less expensive than those from Asia, a lower-cost labor force and a country causing fewer trade concerns compared to China. 

While nearshoring in Mexico is starting to become a reality on a large scale, the country faces fierce competition for foreign manufacturing investments from countries such as India, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. China will also continue to fiercely fight for its share of the global market.

Mexico’s peso rises in value, affecting cross-border freight rates

As Mexico begins to ride its nearshoring wave, the country’s rising peso could pose challenges for U.S.-Mexico trucking.

As of Tuesday, the peso’s value was trading at 17.30 per U.S. dollar. On July 28, the peso’s worth reached its highest value against the dollar since late 2015 when it sat at 16.63 pesos per dollar. Since then, the peso’s value has fluctuated around 17 per dollar.

A strengthening peso and tightening trucking capacity could create challenges for cross-border trade with the U.S., according to supply chain and logistics expert Matt Silver.

“The biggest impact that we’re seeing from the peso’s change is on purchasing transportation,” Silver told FreightWaves in August. “With carriers in Mexico, they do business in pesos, they pay their expenses in pesos, their employees are paid in pesos. But if the trucking company is moving cross-border shipments, there’s a very good chance that they’re getting paid in U.S. dollars.”

Silver said cross-border shippers and carriers need to keep an open line of communication regarding the peso.

“My advice is really about having an open conversation with carriers while paying attention to the market and understanding if things will normalize between the two currencies,” Silver said. “If we can get back to that 20 peso-to-dollar ratio, then you start to feel a little bit better about where things are. But if it stays where it is for a prolonged period of time, then you might have to revisit rates again.”

Cargo theft across Mexico continues to hinder cross-border trade

2023 will go down as the year with the most reported cargo theft cases across Mexico, according to authorities.

Mexico’s National Association of Vehicle Tracking and Protection Companies (ANERPV) recently reported that cargo theft registered 9.5% year-over-year growth during the first 11 months of the year.

In November, ANERPV recorded 306 cargo theft cases across the country, averaging more than 10 a day.

The threat of cargo theft in Mexico was serious enough that one of the country’s largest trucking associations — the Mexican Alliance of Carrier Organizations (AMOTAC) — threatened to go on strike in August if federal and state authorities did not implement more protective measures across roadways.

Cargo theft across Mexico is up 9.5% year-over-year from January through November, compared to the same period in 2022. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The strike was postponed after federal authorities showed a willingness to listen to AMOTAC’s concerns, which also included higher operating costs, complicated vehicle registration, excessive toll fees, extortion by authorities and more.

One of the major agreements included the country’s National Guard meeting monthly with AMOTAC officials to create enhanced safety measures on the country’s roadways to combat cargo theft. The National Guard oversees protection of Mexico’s highways.

Cross-border operators said Mexico still has a long way to go before its roadways see any declines in daily cargo theft incidents.

“Cargo theft is a big problem. The violence is a big problem,” Jorge Canavati, a principal at San Antonio-based J. Canavati & Co., recently told FreightWaves. “The insurance rates for cargo are just going up and up and up.”

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]