Regional Development Key to a Strong North American Trade Bloc

North American Trade Bloc

For many years now, a concern of mine has been that the purpose of free trade and the agreements that envelop trade between regions has not been properly explained or promoted to communities, especially at the grass roots level.

Recently, Guillermo Malpica, trade commissioner of Mexico and executive director at the American Chamber of Commerce in Monterrey, Mexico, paid San Antonio a visit for a series of roundtables and presentations on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement(USMCA). At an energy sector meeting with Malpica, San Antonio energy industry leaders investing in Mexico were expecting to get a sense of direction and clarity regarding Mexico's energy policies.

One roundtable participant asked "what industries are the winners and the losers" in the USMCA. When you ask questions like these, you are basically taking apart a macroeconomic tool and looking at the individual parts. Separate parts don't work unless they are put together like a precision clock.

These types of agreements are not meant to be dissected. Not unlike the cute little frog you dissected in school, the innards don't look pretty. Trade agreements are macroeconomic tools that are designed to benefit economies. Yes, there were industries that were hit very hard once NAFTA came into play, but those industries were not ready.

The signals were clear when Mexico agreed to enter the General Agreement for Trade and Tariffs GATT in 1978 (today the World Trade Organization). My father, the Deputy Director General for the Foreign Trade Institute of Mexico during the 1970s, would have conferences and meetings with Mexican manufacturers, warning them to be ready to compete, up their quality, and export.

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Mexico first to ratify USMCA trade deal, Trump presses U.S. Congress to do same

USMCA Trade Deal

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico on Wednesday became the first country to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) agreed late last year to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at the behest of U.S. President Donald Trump.

By a vote of 114 in favor to 4 against, Mexico's Senate backed the deal tortuously negotiated between 2017 and 2018 after Trump repeatedly threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if he could not get a better trade agreement for the United States.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had already anticipated ratification this week in the Senate, where his leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and its allies have a comfortable majority in the 128-member chamber.

There has been little parliamentary opposition in Mexico to trying to safeguard market access to United States, by far Mexico's top export destination, and the trade deal was approved with overwhelming cross-party support in the Senate.

Mexico sends around 80% of its exports to the United States, and Trump last month vowed to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods if Lopez Obrador does not reduce the flow of U.S.-bound illegal immigration from Central America.

Lopez Obrador says he wants to avoid conflict with Trump, but noted at the weekend that the tariff dispute showed Mexico needed to become more economically self-sufficient.

Trump congratulated Lopez Obrador on Twitter for Mexico's approval. "Time for Congress to do the same here!" he wrote.

Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, posted a video on Twitter in which he called the Senate's approval "very good news" and said it augured well for Mexico's relations with the United States.

Canada, which has also fought with Trump over trade, is pressing ahead to ratify the deal. The main question mark hanging over its ratification is in the United States, where Democratic lawmakers have threatened to block the process.

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With U.S.-Mexico reaching agreement, trade tensions at southern border lessen

Mexico/ US Border Crossing
Canadian border with the USA. Canadian customs.

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor • June 10, 2019

With last Friday's news that the United States and Mexico reached a deal that will put off the implementation of tariffs by the United States on Mexico, which it had planned to start today as a countermeasure to what President Trump called an "ongoing illegal immigration crisis" at the Southern border, it is likely cross-border trade stakeholders are breathing a collective sign of relief.

Had the U.S. tariffs come to fruition, it would have begun with the U.S. imposing a 5% tariff on all goods imported from Mexico and then raised to 10% on July 1, 15% on August 1, 2019, to 20% on September 1, 2019 and to 25% on October 1, 2019.

As previously reported, President Trump said in late May that tariffs would permanently remain at the 25% level unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal flow of aliens coming through its territory. And he added that if Mexico fails to act, tariffs will remain at a high level, with Mexican-based companies potentially moving back to the U.S. to make their products and goods, and companies that relocate to the U.S. not subject to tariffs or be otherwise impacted. Trump added that aside from immigration being the primary impetus for these planned tariffs that: "[o]ver the years, Mexico has made massive amounts of money in its dealing with the United States, and this includes the tremendous number of jobs leaving the country."

Well, quickly and fortunately, it looks like things are not going to get to that point, according to a joint declaration issued by the U.S. and Mexico that stated Mexico will "take unprecedented steps to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration, to include the deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border."

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Trade War Update: Port Of Los Angeles No Longer Top ‘Port’ — It’s Laredo

Port of Los Angeles

The Port of Los Angeles is no longer the nation's leading port, further evidence that the U.S.-China trade war is scrambling the deck chairs of U.S. trade.

Laredo, a city of 260,000 hard on the U.S.-Mexico border, is.

In the month of March, the latest U.S. Census Bureau data available, Port Laredo's trade was $20.09 billion while trade through the Los Angeles port's was $19.66 billion. Laredo's trade was up 9.52% from February while the Port of Los Angeles' trade was down 10.01%.

Although it is just one month of trade, and although the Port of Los Angeles remains the nation's top-ranked port year-to-date among the more than 450 airports, seaports and border crossings, it is just one more sign that President Trump's efforts to force change in China's policies is having an impact.

In previous columns, I have written how China went from buying 57% of all U.S. soybeans to dropping 94.75% in one month. I have written about how China went from being the second-leading buyer of U.S. oil to buying none. I have written about how U.S. trade with China fell fasterearlier this year than at any time in at least 17 years. I have written that China now accounts for a lower percentage of U.S. imports than at any time since 2012. And I have written that Mexico is now the United States' leading trade partner, having replace China.

And now this.

At work, in part, is how important Mexico trade is to Laredo and how important China trade is to Los Angeles. Laredo, in particular.

No other port has handled more trade with one country than Laredo does with Mexico, more than $228 billion in 2018. That''s because last year and this year, Mexico has accounted for more than 97% of all Port Laredo trade.

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Freight costs still a concern at U.S.-Mexico border

US/ Mexico border delays

Wait times for trucks importing and exporting cargo across the U.S.-Mexico border have dropped considerably from April crisis levels but industry experts warn threats to the supply chain haven't been eliminated.

"I've been telling my members that maybe this is a blessing in disguise," said Bob Costello, Chief Economist and Vice President of International Trade Policy for the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Costello, speaking at the annual Global Supply Chain summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on May 16, was referring to the backups and delays that ensued at the southern border after President Trump in late Marchthreatened to shut it down in response to immigration issues. The problem was exacerbated when federal cargo inspectors were redeployed from cargo entry ports to help deal with the migration problem.

"[Wait] times have proved significantly, but we now have another reminder of how critical this trade is, and the modes of transportation that have to move it. Sometimes we need those reminders…that if you shut down the border for a week, you're in a recession, I can almost promise you that."

Costello emphasized the importance trade on the southern border is to American trucking and the U.S. economy: 32,000 U.S. truck drivers participate in cross-border freight moves, representing roughly $1.1 billion worth of cargo per day.

The U.S. automotive sector feels delays and border closure threats particularly hard. Shutting down a single assembly line for an hour due to a lack of parts can cost an automaker $1.3 million per day, said Kristin Dziczek, Vice President of Industry, Labor, and Economics for the Center for Automotive Research, who participated on the panel. "You can't make a car without the parts, and some very critical parts are supplied by Mexico and countries south of Mexico. We were predicting the whole [automotive] industry would be down within a week if the southern border is closed."

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Mexico says it is close to U.S. metals tariff deal, waiting for Canada

Mexico Tariffs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexico is close to resolving its dispute with the United States over steel and aluminum tariffs without quotas but hopes Canada can reach a similar agreement before completing it, a senior Mexican official said on Wednesday.

Jesus Seade, Mexican deputy foreign minister for North America, told Reuters by telephone that a deal to remove the so-called Section 232 tariffs was "very close" but he wanted Canada to be in the same position in its negotiations with Washington.

"What we've been talking about for a week," he said, "is eliminating the 232 without any quotas," noting that it was "very possible" Canada could sign up to a "similar" deal.

Sudden movements in future trade could be handled via a "consultation and monitoring system," he added, noting Mexico still had the option of sealing a deal without Canada.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also expressed optimism about a resolution to the steel dispute, but a top Canadian official avoided direct comment on that possibility.

"I think we are close to an understanding with Mexico and Canada," on resolving the tariffs, Mnuchin said at a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. He did not provide any details about the potential agreement.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she discussed the tariffs on Canadian metals with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday, but declined to say whether the two countries were close to a deal.

"We made the case as we have been doing for some time that the best outcome for both Canadians and Americans would be to lift those tariffs and to have free trade between our two countries who have this fantastic trading relationship in place," she told reporters after the meeting in Washington.

A USTR spokeswoman declined comment on the meeting.

Asked about prospects for a deal, Freeland said she would not discuss Canada's negotiating strategy. She added that if Washington kept the tariffs in place, it would be "very, very problematic" for Canadian ratification of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal (USMCA).

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Mexico Border Delays Seen Weighing on US Investment, Factories

Border Delays

More cargo from Mexico to the United States is being held up at the border, accompanied by increasing evidence that such delays are dimming prospects for American companies.

Slower trade between the countries since federal border officers recently were redirected to deal with a surge in migrants has been socking businesses with additional shipping costs. The effects likely will cause a modest headwind for second-quarter nonresidential investment growth — which cooled at the start of the year — and already helped to push a U.S. factory gauge to a two-year low in April, according to Bank of America Corp.

"The delays generate a meaningful direct cost for businesses," economist Stephen Juneau said in an e-mail May 6. The disruption may have a significant impact on the flow of goods, as more than 86% of Mexican imports enter the U.S. by land, and impose some $5.5 million in additional costs on U.S. businesses each month, he wrote in a report May 3.

Trucking company Werner Enterprises Inc. said on an April 25 earnings call that it expects border crossing to be "slow for the foreseeable future."

"Freight is still crossing the border at a very slow rate by comparable standards," said Derek Leathers, CEO of the Omaha, Neb.-based company.

Werner ranks No. 15 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said March 27 that trade processing would slow, with as many as 750 officers from crossings in the San Diego, Tucson, Ariz.; El Paso and Laredo, Texas, regions being re-assigned. President Donald Trump the next day renewed threats to close the border.

The Institute for Supply Management's factory survey last week showed April conditions at the weakest since October 2016, though still expansionary. The production component also fell to a more than two-year low, which Juneau said likely was in part because of border delays.

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China and Canada fall away as Mexico becomes the US’ biggest trading partner

Trade with Mexico

In the trade war with the United States, China's loss is Mexico's gain.

China's bilateral trade with the US weakened in the first quarter of this year after export order front-loading from both countries started to fade. Mexico has taken advantage of
the trade tariffs on Chinese goods to become the US' top trading partner of the US so far this year, according to new data from the US Census Bureau.

This shows that while US President Donald Trump has stood firm on stopping Mexican immigrants on the US' southern border, he has not been able to stop the flow of Mexican goods, which are partially filling the gap left by Chinese goods affected by the trade dispute.

The news comes despite the fact that Trump has been trying to force a revised deal through Congress to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, covering the trilateral trade bloc of Canada, United States, and Mexico.

The US had US$102.5 billion in goods trade with Mexico in the first two months of the year. In second place was Canada at US$97.5 billion and then China at US$96.7 billion, according to seasonally adjusted data from the US Census Bureau. Mexico had been in third place, behind Canada and China.

China's General Administration of Customs has said that from January to March, overall trade with the US fell 11 per cent year on year, to 815.8 billion yuan (US$121 billion). The US is now behind the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in order of
China's biggest trading partners.

China was still the home to most US imports – US$80 billion – but that was down 11 per cent from January-February a year earlier. By contrast, Mexican exports to the US rose 5 per cent to US$58.7 billion over the same period.

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‘Confidence in Mexico’: U.S. and Mexican top brass to talk business, border

USA Mexico Trade

MERIDA, Mexico (Reuters) - A meeting of U.S. and Mexican government and business leaders on Thursday aims to shore up investor confidence in Mexico and defuse U.S. President Donald Trump's threats to close their shared border if illegal immigration is not halted

Part of regular business forum the U.S.-Mexico CEO Dialogue, the talks in Mexico coincide with renewed tensions over trade and the border after two years of uncertainty sparked by Trump's push to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

They also give Mexico an opportunity to address investor concerns about how President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has run Latin America's No. 2 economy since taking office in December.

"We want the American investors that visit our country to go back home feeling confident about their investments here," said Moises Kalach, a top executive in the CCE business lobby, which represented Mexico's private sector at the NAFTA talks.

Lopez Obrador and officials including his foreign minister and energy minister, plus U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, are scheduled to attend the two-day meeting in the city of Merida.

Among investors due to attend is Larry Fink, chief executive of the world's largest asset manager BlackRock Inc.

The leftist Lopez Obrador took power vowing to fight entrenched corruption, crime, inequality and poverty, scourges that cost Mexico billions of dollars every year.

He has said he wants to boost both private and public investment, but some of his early decisions, such as canceling a partially-built $13 billion Mexico City airport and steps to rein in the autonomy of regulatory bodies, have spooked investors.

Questions remain over the future of trade in the region because the deal agreed to replace NAFTA, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), has yet to be ratified.

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Delays at U.S.-Mexico border crossing hits autos, trucks still lining up

border slowdown

CIUDAD JUAREZ/MEXICO CITY -- Long delays at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing for goods destined for American plants and consumers are hitting the U.S. auto industry, and the gridlock reduced by half the number of northbound trucks that crossed the entry point last week

Washington's decision to move some 750 agents from commercial to immigration duties to handle a surge in families seeking asylum in the United States has triggered the delays at crucial ports on a border that handles $1.7 billion in daily trade.

"The situation in Ciudad Juarez is very serious because these auto parts go to plants in the United States and obviously they put at risk the operation in the United States," Eduardo Solis, the president of the Mexican Auto Industry Association (AMIA), said on Monday.

The North American auto industry is highly integrated and many car parts cross the border several times before they are finally installed on a vehicle.

Seventeen 17 hours before the crossing to El Paso even opened on Monday morning, trucks were already lining up in Ciudad Juarez to avoid the fate of some 7,500 trailers that failed to cross last week, said Manuel Sotelo, vice president at the Mexican National Chamber of Freight Transport's north division.

That is roughly half the number of trucks per week that usually cross there, carrying everything from car and plane parts to refrigerators, washing machines, TVs, cellphones and computers.

"This is not normal. We had never seen this before in Ciudad Juarez," said Sotelo.

Despite elevated costs, some Mexican exporters are turning to air freight to avoid the mile-long lines at the border.

"We're using charter (planes) which cost between $35,000 and $100,000 depending on the volume and merchandise," said Pedro Chavira, who heads the manufacturing industry chamber INDEX in Ciudad Juarez.

Air freight is typically a last resort used by automakers and suppliers to get parts to an assembly plant for just-in-time delivery.

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