Officials in Mexico and the United States are discussing expanding a joint pilot inspection program aimed at reducing wait times for agricultural products at the border
The program has already been implemented at Port Laredo's Colombia Solidarity International Bridge, where wait times have been reduced by an average of 3.5 hours, according to a release from Mexico's Department of National Service of Health, Safety and Agrifood Quality (SENASICA).
"The program consists of transports that have the American security certification of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), which cross Mexican customs without inspection, through the Free and Secure Trade (FAST), which allows the border crossing to decrease on average 3.5 hours," according to the SENASICA release.
Officials with SENASICA announced other border crossings that could see expedited truck inspection times include points of entry in Tijuana, Mexicali, and Baja, CA; San Luis Rio Colorado-Nogales; Ciudad Juárez-El Paso; Reynosa-McAllen; and Nuevo Laredo-Laredo.
"Through the pilot program from Jan. 11 to Aug. 25, more than 23,000 tons of food (86% vegetables and 14% meats) have entered the U.S. through the FAST lane at Colombia bridge, Nuevo León, Mexico, and Laredo, Texas, in an average time of 1.5 to two hours, compared to the five or seven hours they register during a normal crossing," according to SENASICA.
The value of U.S. imports of fresh fruits and vegetables from Mexico was $12.1 billion in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Trade statistics from the USDA also show that U.S. imports of fresh produce from Central American countries were valued at $2.94 billion in 2018.
The pilot program has been a partnership among U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Mexico's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER) and Mexico's Tax Administration Service (SAT).
Cargo was inspected at the Colombia Solidarity Bridge by CBP and SAT personnel and, in the case of agricultural goods, SENASICA intervened to determine that it complied with regulations and verified that there were no risks of pests and diseases.
It is unclear if the pilot program between SENASICA and the CBP is related to a new law that the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) recently passed to also reduce wait times for produce imports at international ports-of-entry.
Texas House Bill 2155, which went into effect Sept. 1, reauthorizes a program allowing the TDA to award grants totaling $750,000 to cities and private companies that paid CBP for overtime to receive reimbursement from the federal government or use the grant money to reimburse the CBP.
"The backup at the Texas border is affecting more than just people — it affects goods, including agricultural products," said Sid Miller, commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture. "We've got to keep our cross-border trade healthy and moving."
Since the TDA program was created in 2015, it has been used at several international bridges along the Texas-Mexico border, including the Pharr-Reynosa and Anzalduas bridges.
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said the city also is spending $220 million to complete infrastructure projects that will allow for faster crossing over the international bridges.
Saenz said some of the improvements to expedite truck crossings in Laredo was the recent construction of a new $10 million paved Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lane for northbound empty tractor-trailers to run directly from the World Trade Bridge. It will decrease wait times by 25% at cargo facilities.
Another new addition to speed up border crossings in Laredo is an X-ray machine to expedite truck inspections.
"President Trump is a businessman and Laredo, being the number one land port that contributes about $400 million annually, [Trump] saw that and the people he removed from the CBP [in April] brought them back to Laredo as soon as possible, but a few are still missing," Saenz said in an interview with ElFinanciero.com.
Saenz added, "Laredo is growing on average 5% annually, and that is even with the threats that Trump is making — we see that we are growing, not only us, but other ports are also growing."
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