MCALLEN, RGV – Thursday was an historic day for international trade in the Rio Grande Valley and the state of Tamaulipas as the first shipment of U.S.-originated produce was transported to Asia via Mexico.

CI Logistics dispatched the first of 400 containers of U.S. cotton to Vietnam. The containers were loaded in the Valley and crossed into Mexico via Reynosa. From there they will be transported to Monterrey, where they will be loaded onto rail cars. Via rail they will be taken to the ports of Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas on the Pacific Coast. There they will be loaded onto container ships and shipped directly to Vietnam. They whole journey should take about a month.

“For products that originate in the United States, this is a first, for sure,” said Joaquin Spamer, owner and founder of CI Logistics. “There is some ‘in transit’ movement when the maquiladoras ship to Asia but those are products originating in Mexico. That is not the same. This is product originating in the United States.”

Asked what the Vietnamese would use the cotton for, Spamer said he was unsure. “Jeans, shirts, maybe underwear. We are sending 400 containers now but we expect to send a lot more. The U.S. exports 100,000 containers of cotton a year to Asia.”

The historic nature of the transportation is Spamer’s shipments are going via Mexico and not through a port like Long Beach in California. “China is the biggest producer of cotton. They make 36 million bales a year but they consume 54 million bales. U.S. cotton is the most reliable cotton, you get what you pay for,” Spamer said.

American Third Coast

Keith Patridge, president of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, and Ralph Garcia, MEDC’s vice president for Mexican operations, were with Spamer as the first container left CI Logistics’ warehouse off Military Highway in south McAllen. Patridge said Spamer has made the concept of a “Third Coast” for United States international trade a reality.

“We are excited. This is something we have been dreaming about – the first shipment we have ever had going from the U.S. via transit in Mexico into the port of Manzanillo and then shipped direct to Asia,” Patridge said. “We had the Third Coast vision and concept many, many, years ago. Joaquin and I have talked about it for a long time. As Joaquin always does, he has taken the bull by the horns and actually used his products and his business acumen to develop the concept until it became reality.”

Patridge predicted Spamer’s new trading route will open up “a whole new opportunity” for Mexico and the Valley “to really build that Third Coast concept that we have been talking about for so long.” Patridge said Spamer showed leadership and perseverance.

“I think he just started something that will grow into a whole new transportation logistics chain, for not just the Rio Grande Valley but for the United States to link to Asia. In the past, it was very difficult to go through the United States, ‘in transit’ through Mexico. What Joaquin has done is put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Once you break the traditional objections and you overcome it and it works, then other people will follow in his footsteps for other things, such as electronics, grains, other commodities. This gives the Rio Grande Valley a whole new opportunity to reach the rest of the world through a very efficient, quick, low-cost transportation route. Before Joaquin came along it was just a vision and an idea. He turned it into a reality.”

Spamer said much credit should go to Patridge and MEDC, Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, and, particularly, Tamaulipas’ under-secretary for investment promotion in the economic development office, Claudia Josefina Lagos Galindo.

“We were sitting at a McAllen EDC board meeting, Keith Patridge and before him, Mike Allen, and we had this vision of the importance of this location geographically. Mike and Keith invented this concept of the American Third Coast, that U.S. manufacturing companies and U.S. trade can go through a third coast. They can go through the west coast, through the east coast and through Mexico. Sometimes, going through Mexico is a lot more efficient,” Spamer said.

“Keith explained the concept to me. I really admire Keith because he understands what can be developed here. So, we took the idea and we said, why don’t we start moving some stuff through Mexico ‘in transit.’ So, the first thing we did is, we got hold of SENASICA, which handles food quality, and then we asked SAGARPA, the Mexican department of agriculture, if they would let us take U.S. agricultural products, to go through Mexico ‘in transit,’ to go through Reynosa, and exit through Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas. It took about a year for them to issue the permits and now it is a reality.”

That was only part of the red tape Spamer and CI Logistics had to wade through, however.

“For this product to move logistically we needed to move it multi-modal. It needed to come into Mexico by truck, be transferred to rail and then leave by boat. The Mexico ‘in transit’ regulations did not allow multi-modal. It was, ‘you are coming in by truck you leave by truck.’ And, the regulations only allowed four days to get out. So, we had two challenges, one was to get multi-modal approved and the other was to get the period of time extended.”

A shout out to Claudia Lagos

Enter Claudia Josefina Lagos Galindo.

“We reached out to the secretary of economic development in the State of Tamaulipas, and through the sub-secretary of investment development, Claudia Lagos. We explained what we needed to accomplish. Claudia took this as a personal challenge, a personal enterprise. She went to Mexico City, she sat down with all the heads of SAT, the revenue service of the Mexican federal government, and the customs officials of Mexico, and she was able to have them change the regulations so we could do multi-modal for ‘in transit’ and to extend the period from four days to 14 days. That was crucial.”

Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca and Tamaulipas’ under-secretary for investment promotion, Claudia Josefina Lagos Galindo.

Spamer said without the help of Lagos his first shipment of cotton would not be headed to Asia.

“We would not be here today sending the first shipment to Vietnam if it were not for Claudia Lagos putting in that kind of effort. It shows we now have a pro-business Governor in Tamaulipas, a government that is putting the time and the effort in, through their top officials, to help business; a government that understands the importance of logistics to the state of Tamaulipas,” Spamer said.

“We all know Tamaulipas is the most important state for exports from Mexico to the United States, but now with this, Tamaulipas becomes the most important state for ‘in transit’ operations from the United States into Asia. That is what Claudia understood. That is why she knew this was very important. She used to be involved with SAT. She told me, ‘Joaquin, I understand the need, I understand the opportunity, it is an opportunity for Tamaulipas, it is an opportunity for Mexico, and I am going to put the effort it in to make it happen.’ And she did. She was able to get everything together.”

Spamer said he was sorry Lagos could not be in McAllen to see the first container load of cotton head out to Asia. “She is extremely busy. I could not be more grateful to Claudia and to Keith Patridge. We have had the biggest support from McAllen EDC over the years. For a small businessman like me, with that kind of support, from an EDC and from a government official is unique. They did a great job.”