Nearshoring Leads to Inbound Boost from Mexico, Canada

cargo freighter at sunset feature

Mexico and Canada are seeing an increase in manufacturing and shipping to the U.S. as nearshoring takes hold in the face of uncertainty over trade with China and more businesses adopt a “plus one” strategy regarding the country’s largest trading partner, maintaining their base while diversifying their sourcing strategy.

According to a joint supply chain stability index from management consulting firm KPMG and the Association of Supply Chain Management (ASCM), nearshoring meant the volume of imported freight from Mexico to the U.S. in Q1 exceeded that of China by 15%. The volume from Canada was 5% higher as “China plus one” takes a firm hold.

Also, ocean freight prices decreased by 10% in Q1, the companies reported in the index, as inbound container freight from Asia dropped 27% and air freight was down 50%.

“We see evidence in ongoing announcements of increased investments in Mexico,” said Douglas Kent, EVP of corporate and strategic alliances for ASCM. “There are other beneficiaries of the shift in global demand, including countries in Southeast Asia. But for the U.S., Mexico is the largest recipient of volume from the China plus one strategy.”

Kent said this nearshoring-driven shift of inbound volume from Mexico could cause other issues in terms of insufficient trucking capacity, exacerbated by the driver shortage. “The entire ecosystem has to work,” Kent said. “You might solve one problem and create another. Do we have enough capacity in road volume for shipments coming up from Mexico?”

On the inventory side, the index found that unfilled manufacturing orders grew by 8% in Q1, indicating a return to the pre-pandemic range for adherence to manufacturing schedules. “The wholesale inventory-to-shipment ratio is also near pre-pandemic levels, while the retail ratio is progressing in the same direction,” the report stated.

Many retailers have been working furiously to reduce inventory overstock levels, with some shifting to a just-in-time model vs. a just-in-case approach that led to the glut when supply chain reliability could not be counted on, the companies found.

Most retailers were hurt hard enough by the “bullwhip effect” of inventory oversupply that they won’t repeat the same mistake, Kent said.

“When there’s high volatility, the normal response is to de-risk by putting in more inventory,” Kent said. “Now companies are taking a more thoughtful approach, not letting the pendulum swing back too far the other way. It’s not a complete return to just in time, but we see companies making better investments in building capacity by using analytics for inventory strategy.”

Kent said this means companies are reconsidering the structure of their networks, including sourcing, distribution and warehousing. “They’re building out scenarios to determine the impact of (supply chain volatility). These scenarios look at the most optimized network, relative to service levels expected from buyers.”

The KPMG/ASCM index, which was created in September, takes into account 25 different variables from public sources, using a machine learning model from KPMG to determine their impact on supply chain volatility. Variables include reporting on inventory levels in manufacturing, wholesale and retail, as well as freight demand and costs and the volume of unfulfilled manufacturing orders.