Joint in­spec­tions to speed up trade at border

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Business - San­dra Dib­ble

SAN DIEGO — A mad­den­ingly slow in­spec­tion process that can make cross­ing the border an or­deal last­ing as long as six hours for trucks car­ry­ing cargo from Ti­juana to San Diego soon could be dra­mat­i­cally speeded up.

Un­der a new pro­gram ex­pected to launch this month at the Otay Mesa Port of En­try, qual­i­fy­ing ship­pers — many car­ry­ing prod­ucts from Ti­juana’s large maquiladora in­dus­try — can ex­pect sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced wait times as U.S. and Mex­i­can in­spec­tors con­duct joint in­spec­tions.

The pro­gram is a first for Otay Mesa, the sec­ond busiest com­mer­cial port of en­try on the U.S.-Mex­ico border. It will al­low users en­rolled in the se­cure-cargo ship­ping pro­gram known as FAST (Free and Se­cure Trade) to forgo out­bound in­spec­tions in Mex­ico, and in­stead drive straight into the U.S. port to be in­spected si­mul­ta­ne­ously by in­spec­tors from both coun­tries.

“You’re cut­ting in­spec­tion times in half, not to men­tion in­creas­ing the ef­fi­ciency in the pri­mary lanes and the wait times in between,” said Pete Flores, di­rec­tor of CBP’s San Diego Field Of­fice.

The joint in­spec­tions started last Au­gust in Calexico, where U.S. and Mex­i­can of­fi­cers “are do­ing 200 trucks a day, and at times over 300 trucks in a day,” Flores said. “The re­la­tion­ship with Mex­ico is the strong­est it’s ever been. It con­tin­ues to get stronger for us.”

The close col­lab­o­ra­tion between U.S. and Mex­i­can of­fi­cials aimed at fa­cil­i­tat­ing the flow of trade between both coun­tries at the border comes in con­trast to the rhetoric and un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the cur­rent re-ne­go­ti­a­tion of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, in­volv­ing the United States, Mex­ico and Canada.

“Whether NAFTA is signed or not, th­ese are op­er­a­tional ef­fi­cien­cies we need to have,” said Gus­tavo de la Fuente, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Smart Border Coali­tion, a bi­na­tional group that pro­motes more ef­fi­cient border cross­ings between Ti­juana and San Diego. “This re­gion should be at the fore­front of th­ese things.”

Un­der the tra­di­tional sys­tem, goods sent from Mex­ico to the United States must un­dergo two in­spec­tions, first as they leave Mex­ico and then again as they en­ter the United States. The joint in­spec­tions of­fer the prom­ise of sav­ings both in terms of time and money.

At a time of tight fed­eral dol­lars for ex­pand­ing ports of en­try and hir­ing in­spec­tors to process both peo­ple and goods, the pro­gram has been win­ning ap­plause on the Ari­zona border, where it was first launched last year at the Mari­posa cargo fa­cil­ity in No­gales, and has since been ex­panded to Dou­glas and San Luis. In San Luis, the joint in­spec­tions now ap­ply to all cat­e­gories of cargo trav­el­ing and in­cludes joint in­spec­tion of south­bound ship­ments as well.

The pro­gram has dras­ti­cally re­duced wait times for com­mer­cial truck trade in No­gales — by as much as 85 per­cent, from three hours to thirty min­utes.

“It has just been tremen­dous, ev­ery­one is de­lighted with it,” said Russ Jones, a cus­toms bro­ker and in­ter­na­tional freight for­warder whose com­pany has of­fices in Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia and Texas. “The ef­fi­cien­cies of this goes with­out say­ing,” said Jones, who is chair­man of the Border Trade Al­liance.

Though the past year has seen a dra­matic ex­pan­sion of joint in­spec­tions, the United States and Mex­ico have long been lay­ing the ground­work for this to take place. Among those mea­sures is the Joint Dec­la­ra­tion on 21st Cen­tury Man­age­ment signed by the two gov­ern­ments in May 2010 and aimed both at pro­mot­ing eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness and en­hanc­ing se­cu­rity along the border.

In Oc­to­ber 2015, a pi­lot pre-in­spec­tion pro­gram al­lowed armed Mex­i­can cus­toms of­fi­cers for the first time on U.S. ter­ri­tory to in­spect south­bound air cargo ship­ments at the air­port in Laredo, Texas. The joint in­spec­tions there have now been ex­panded to in­clude rail and trucks, ac­cord­ing to CBP.

In Jan­uary 2016, Otay Mesa be­came the first point on the U.S.-Mex­ico border to al­low armed U.S. cus­toms of­fi­cers to work with Mex­i­can coun­ter­parts in Mex­ico — in this case a pre-in­spec­tion fa­cil­ity for cer­tain north­bound agri­cul­tural prod­ucts. But the traf­fic has been fairly light with in­spec­tors pro­cess­ing about 10-12 ship­ments a day, Flores said, and more than 20 on busy days.

Over­all some 3,000 to 3,500 trucks cross north­bound each day at the Otay Mesa Port of En­try, ac­cord­ing to CBP.

TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Trucks line up on Oct. 6 by the U.S. border fence in Ti­juana to cross to the United States at Otay Mesa.

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