'We don't know how many hands it goes through now.'
By Patrick Anderson PBN Staff Writer
Unless you grew it yourself, the lime in your summer margarita likely came from Mexico and was trucked across the U.S. border, passing between several brokers and shippers, before making its way up Interstate 95 to the supermarket.
Based on the retail prices New England consumers pay for those limes, and a wide array of other imported fruits and vegetables, Mexican growers and government officials think there must be a more efficient way to move produce to the Northeast.
So they reached out to the Port of New Bedford, which last week formalized a sister-city agreement with Tuxpan, a port in the Mexican state of Veracruz, that officials and businesses on both sides of the border hope will start a flourishing maritime produce trade into the Whaling City.
The agreement, which government and industry leaders have been working on for more than a year, will result in a coordinated effort to bring together Mexican produce growers and Northeastern distributors around the idea of moving produce by sea instead of highway.
If successful, proponents say it could reduce produce prices in the region while boosting cargo activity in New Bedford and creating new waterfront jobs.
“Produce prices in New England and eastern Canada are higher than the rest of the United States and we think opening up this new route will decrease the cost of produce in the region while increasing the margins of retailers and growers,” said Fabian Santana, a trade-development official with Mexican trade-commission ProMexico. “It will also take some trucks off the roads, which are very congested.”
In essence, the agreement looks to eliminate some of the middlemen that Santana said clutter the produce trade to the north and add to transportation costs that now represent between 10 and 20 percent of the cost of Mexican fruit here.
“Right now the distribution system has layers of brokers and we are not being able to determine the price of produce, because the current supply chain is very opaque,” Santana said. “We don’t even know the number of hands it is going through now.”
Located on Mexico’s central East Coast, Tuxpan is the closest large port to Mexico City and the government is currently working on a new highway between the coast and the capital that could expand commerce there further.
Years down the line, Santana thinks as much as half the produce exported to the Northeast could be shipped by sea.