HALIFAX – With the U.S. economy in the doldrums, Maritime lumber producers are looking beyond the traditional American and European markets. One potential market is Canada’s other NAFTA partner, Mexico.

A delegation from Mexico is attending the Maritime Lumber Bureau’s 69th annual convention in Halifax this week.

“They find our product and the transportation availability out of the Port of Halifax to be very appealing,” said Diane Blenkhorn, president and CEO of the Maritime Lumber Bureau.

It’s not the only new international opportunity the Maritime Lumber Bureau is exploring on behalf of its members.

“We’re believe there may be opportunities in Caribbean trade. A Caribbean delegation was here last week,” said Blenkhorn.

Mexico has the 12th largest economy in the world with a gross domestic product of $1.25 trillion. Canada, by comparison, ranks 13th.

With a population of more than 108 million, Mexico has a housing shortage of roughly 750,000 units per year and is a major importer of wood from the United States and South America.

Cement is the most common building material in use in Mexico, said Jeff Sevreau, a consultant for Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

In 2006, Mexico imported $1.6 billion worth of softwood and hardwood, he noted.

“There are some real opportunities there,” he said, noting Mexican demand for wood for pallet construction, concrete forming walls, roof trusses as well as hotel construction and renovation.

While there are opportunities in Mexico, there are also challenges, said Sevreau.

Those challenges include a preference to buy wood in metric sizes, requirements for Mexican involvement in shipping goods by land over the border and a lack of standard sizes for wood products such as doors.

Shipping costs may also be a barrier to expanded trade.

“When we looked at the cost of shipping from East Coast ports to places like Mexico City … prices ranged from $600 to $1,200 per 40-foot container for in-land shipment, so it is relatively expensive,” he said.

However, those costs may decrease as shipping volumes rise, said Sevreau.