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Groups urge improved inter-agency cooperation on U.S.-Mexican border

by Rand Green | June 23, 2011

A new report co-sponsored by the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales, AZ, and the Washington-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce urges the U.S. government to improve inter-agency cooperation in order to “reduce bottlenecks of commercial shipments at the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to a June 8 FPAA press release.

The report also calls for the government to “recognize the need to increase [U.S.] Customs & Border Protection staffing as a means to minimize crossing times,” the release stated. “Those are two key recommendations” of the report, the purpose of which was “to create a concise outline on the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship that could be easily provided to policy leaders and the general public.”

“We fully support a safe and secure border, including the ports of entry,” FPAA Chairman Jaime Chamberlain, president of J-C Distributing Inc. in Nogales, AZ, said in the release. “Customs & Border Protection needs all the tools at its disposal, including not just technology but also adequate levels of personnel to facilitate the legal crossing of goods and people.”

“When you recognize that trucks of goods are waiting six or seven hours in line to get across the border, you know something is wrong with the system,” FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer said in the release.

The release further quoted Mr. Jungmeyer as saying that there are not “excessively long lines at Customs for produce trucks coming into the U.S. from Canada” and that the United States has a “responsibility to live up to its obligations to provide free and fair trade to NAFTA partners. When Customs is understaffed, that is an effective barrier to trade.”

Another issue is the need to address the long delays that often occur in getting back microbiological testing results from samples taken by U.S. Food & Drug Administration officials at the border. Getting test results sometimes takes up to two weeks, and “when you are dealing in perishable fruits and vegetables that must then be thrown away, that is an unacceptable outcome,” Mr. Jungmeyer continued in the release.

Full utilization of data already collected by Customs & Border Protection would enable Customs to be more efficient in identifying loads that should be tested, he said, suggesting that interconnectivity in the computer systems of the two agencies would help.

“How we manage the U.S.-Mexico border is essential to our commercial partnership, security, supply chains, economies and ultimately jobs for our citizens,” Thomas J. Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a June 8 Chamber press release. “This relationship is too significant to allow delays and other inefficiencies at the border that erode the competitive advantage that NAFTA created.”

The report details a series of steps needed to increase efficiency at the border. They are:

• Focus on security but view trade facilitation and security “as mutually conducive.”

• “Facilitate the flow of trade at the border” through better technology, trusted shipper programs and adequate staffing.

• Invest significantly to improve inadequate infrastructure.

• “Pursue immigration reform,” which “could help substantially alleviate the strain on our border, while adding to the economic vitality of our country.”