PHILADELPHIA - Top ranking leaders of the Mexican maritime industry met with about 50 key players of the Philadelphia regional port community Friday to consider moving cargo by ship - rather than a long-standing preference for trucks - between Veracruz and the Delaware River.

While the proposed 4-day crossing is cheaper, faster, cleaner and safer than traveling the countries’ highways, a regular shipping service between the two cities has not been in play for an estimated 40 years.

The switch could yield substantial economic benefits to both ports because Mexico is already engaged in about $10 billion in bilateral trade with the region.

From Pennsylvania alone, Mexico received $3.4 billion in exports last year, a 13 percent increase from the prior year and a five percent increase in imports, valued at $3 billion.

Exported goods include chemicals, machinery, computers and electronic products, food, plastic, rubber, paper and wood products. Major Pennsylvania exporters to Mexico, include Heinz Foods, General Electric Transportation Services, Hershey and Alcoa.

Imports include food, agricultural products, textiles and fabrics, as well as, electrical equipment, appliances and fabricated metals, said Herb Packer, director of PennPORTS, the Commonwealth’s advocate for ports and global commerce within the Transportation Department.

“With the advent of nearshoring, we believe there exists a huge market opportunity for increased trade between Mexico and Pennsylvania,” said Packer, noting that Pennsylvania has a trade mission to Mexico – its 13th in a decade - later this month.

Representatives of three shipping lines interested in creating regular liner service between the two cities also attended the half-day session held at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. An estimated 25 percent of the fruit in the 20-acre refrigerated facility is imported from Mexico.

Ship Philly First, an organization of private businesses that operate along the Delaware River, coordinated the event along with the Consulate of Mexico in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.

Fred Sorbello, president of Ship Philly First and CEO of Mullica Hill Group Companies, stressed the need for importers, exporters and port businesses to support the proposed ocean route.

“This service would provide higher returns to growers and manufacturers and more high paying port jobs here and in Veracruz. The border crossings are already stressed and unprepared for future growth. This is a golden opportunity,” said Sorbello.

Carlos Giralt-Cabrales, Consul of Mexico in Philadelphia, agrees.

‘There is a lot of potential in connecting Philadelphia and Veracruz. My country is the second best export market for Pennsylvania products and the steamship service will enhance trade and commerce. The Consulate of Mexico in Philadelphia will keep working with Ship Philly First to support this project.”

Fernando Gamboa-Rosas, director of Port Administration and Development for Mexico, called Mexico the “belly of the world” because of its strategic location and high volumes of agricultural exports. It has nine ports on the Pacific and seven on the Gulf of Mexico, including Veracruz, the country’s oldest.

Located l, 926 nautical miles from Philadelphia, Veracruz is in the midst of a $5 billion expansion program and eager to welcome new business.

“We would be very proud to have you visit us. We have the best rail and highway connections to Mexico City. We are a free zone and the most secure port in the country,” said Juan Ignacio Fernandez-Carbajal, director of the Port of Veracruz.

Rusty Lucca, president of Lucca Trucking in Vineland, called shipping between the countries a “win-win” for regional trucking companies.

“The long haulers deliver direct to retailers. When cargo comes into our ports, local truckers and warehouse operators will benefit.”