Mexican Port Data Signals the Start of Nearshoring

A containership loaded with multimodal containers at sea being followed by three smaller vessels.

For months, Mexican economists have predicted the start of nearshoring. Namely, given heightened supply chain disruptions, Western companies will seek to relocate factories to friendly and neighboring countries, Mexico being chief amongst them

Now, data from Mexican ports suggests that the country is seeing the first signs of nearshoring outside of increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and growing promises of future investments. The country has reached a historic high in container trade—measured in TEUs—after a drastic slump in february, fueled by greater interest from international markets.

The latest figures from Mexico’s Secretary of the Navy show that Mexican ports handled a total of 1.01 million TEUs in the month of march alone. That represents a monthly increase in TEUs handled of 115%. When compared to last march, Mexican ports are now handling 165% more TEUs than before, fueling a historic high in imports to the country.

Monthly TEUs in all Mexican Ports (2023-2024)

A line graph showing the number of TEUs handled in Mexican ports between Jan 2023 and March 2023.
(Data from Mexico’s Secretary of the Navy)

The growth across ports is a national trend shared by ports in the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico alike. However, we found that growth in Pacific ports was far greater than growth in their Caribbean and Gulf counterparts. In fact, while ports in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico saw a shared monthly growth rate of 105% in TEUs handled, Pacific ports saw an increase of 119.7%. In total, Pacific ports handled over 746,000 TEUs—181% more than last march—, accounting for 73.48% of Mexico’s total container trade.

Monthly TEUs in Mexican Ports Divided by Coast (2023-2024)

A line graph showing the number of TEUs handled in Mexican ports between Jan 2023 and March 2023 divided by coast (Pacific or Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean).
(Data from Mexico’s Secretary of the Navy)

It is worth noting that Mexico’s container trade is heavily consolidated in four ports: Manzanillo, Lázaro Cárdenas, Veracruz, and Altamira—coincidentally, two ports in the Pacific, and two ports in the Gulf of Mexico. Recent data was not an exception to this trend. In March alone, these four ports accounted for 93.02% of all container trade in the country. In fact, the gap between the fourth largest port (Altamira) and the fifth largest port (Ensenada) equals more than 60,000 TEUs, further signaling the importance of these four ports.

Amongst these four ports, Lázaro Cárdenas—the second largest—became the clear favorite for international trade. In march, it reported a month-to-month increase in TEUa activity of 217% with containers handled jumping from 83,828 in february to 265,787 in march. Manzanillo—the nation’s largest port—was not too far off from the trend, increasing monthly TEUs handled from 214,402 in February to 434,618 in March—a 102.7% increase.

Monthly TEUs in the Four Largest Mexican Ports (2023-2024)

A line graph showing the number of TEUs handled in the four largest Mexican ports between Jan 2023 and March 2023.
(Data from Mexico’s Secretary of the Navy)

There are a number of theories that could explain this shocking growth. For once, there could be increased imports from US companies that have already offshored a portion of their supply chains to Mexico. On the other hand, it is worth noticing that growth has focused on Pacific Coast ports like Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo, which tend to focus on trade with Asia. This could signal an increased interest from China to use Mexico as a middleman in negotiating with the US. It could also be a sign that foreign companies are beginning to import products to Mexico in hopes of establishing factories in the near future—thus kick-starting nearshoring. And, it might well be the case that US companies are looking to use Mexico as a faster route to reach the US by land given increased wait times in the Panama Canal.

Likely, all explanations play a role in Mexico’s sudden container growth. Yet all of them share one shared truth: Mexico is increasingly becoming a part of the international economy, a pattern that is only set to grow in coming months.