Is Nogales: #1, #2, or #3?

Is Nogales still number one in fresh produce imports?
October 30, 2017
Vera Pavlakovich-Kochi, Ph.D., Senior Regional Scientist and Associate Professor of Geography and Regional Development

For more than a century, Arizona’s largest border port of entry, Nogales, was the main gateway for the import of Mexican fresh produce to U.S. and Canadian markets. In last ten-fifteen years, however, Texas ports, most notably, Hidalgo and Laredo, have started on an extraordinary upward trend. Increasing imports of Mexican fresh produce through Texas border ports of entry at first only challenged, but soon started to replace Arizona’s Nogales from its long-held pedestal. But, wait, it all depends on how we measure imports of fresh produce.

Nogales Fell to #2 in Import of Fresh Produce

Fresh produce encompasses two large categories, vegetables and fruits. Until 2014, Nogales was still number one in total dollar value of imported fresh produce, ahead of Hidalgo and Laredo. But even if imports through Nogales continued to rise, since 2014 Nogales was overtaken by Hidalgo with the highest dollar value of imported fresh produce.

Figure 1. Imports of Mexican Fresh Produce ($mil)

Imports of Mexican produce

Source: AZMEX based on USA Trade Online

Nogales Has Retained #1 in Import of Fresh Vegetables

About 70% of the value of Mexican fresh produce imported through Nogales consists of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers. In spite of rising imports through Hidalgo and Laredo, Nogales is still the #1 port of entry. In 2016, more than $2 billion worth of fresh vegetables came through the port of Nogales.

Figure 2. Import of Mexican Vegetables ($mil)

Imports of Mexican vegetables

Source: AZMEX based on USA Trade Online

Nogales is #3 in Import of Fruits & Nuts (Including Avocados)

It is the exponential growth in imports of Mexican avocados that profoundly impacted the latest trend charts, as was reported in one of our previous articles. Hidalgo has established itself as the leading port of entry for avocados that comprise the major dollar value category in imported fruits and nuts. Imports of avocados through Nogales have grown since 2011, but at a much slower pace.

Figure 3. Import of Mexican Fruits (Including Avocados) ($mil)

Imports of Mexican fruits (including avocados)

Source: AZMEX based on USA Trade Online

Not a single cause

The recent reshuffling in top positions among the three major ports at the U.S.-Mexico border does not necessarily mean that imports of Mexican fresh produce through Nogales are declining. Rather, it is obvious that imports through Texas border ports are growing faster. In the fast and ever-changing economic landscape, it is difficult to pinpoint a single cause. While increases in avocado imports certainly play a major role, it is more difficult to isolate the impacts of geography, distances, highway security, port infrastructure, inspection rigidity, and last, but not least, the power of individual port promotional practices – all of which influence decisions about port of entry.