WASHINGTON, D.C. — Customs and Border Protection by the end of the year will launch three pilot programs aimed at speeding the clearance of goods across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The pilots will provide pre-inspection — the rough equivalent of primary inspection at the border — before the shipments are exported, Ana Hinojosa, CBP’s lead executive of border initiatives, told The Journal of Commerce. One of the pilots will involve pre-inspection of air cargo in Laredo, Texas, and the other will provide a similar level of processing of agricultural goods shipped via truck from Otay Mesa, Calif. She said details regarding the third pilot program will be announced later this year.
The third pilot is likely a pre-inspection station for the Foxconn facility in San Jerónimo, Mexico, said Christopher Wilson, an associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute. Through the U.S.-Mexico partnership, the Taiwanese-based manufacturer and Apple supplier would have a dedicated lane across the border to Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
“Once (the pilots) are operational, we will be looking to see whether they provide a facilitative benefit,” Hinojosa said. “If they do, we would be looking at what would be the best way to expand them — whether that be including different commodities into the process or identifying additional locations.”
The push to speed the movement of goods through pre-inspection comes as U.S. importers prepare for longer clearance times at Canadian and Mexican borders because of reduced CBP manpower. The federal sequestration, which took effect on March 1, will cause “significant daily backups for truck shipments” at major border gateways, Deputy Customs Commissioner David Aguilar told shippers this month.
The cross-border trade will be hindered by a reduction in CBP manpower, a result of limited overtime, a hiring freeze and coming furloughs. The number of trucks crossing the border has been relatively steady in recent years, but more concentrated loading has boosted the value of trade, Wilson said. Truck and train trade by value, however, faltered in December, the latest month for which data is available via the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The value of truck and rail trade between Mexico and the U.S. fell 7.2 percent to $28.2 billion in December from the prior month and 2.2 percent on a year-over-year basis, according to the agency. A decrease in the value of truck imports and exports caused the drop.
In an effort to speed up trade, CBP also is working with its Mexican counterpart, the Tax Administrative Service, to gain mutual recognition of their respective trusted trader programs, said Daniel Baldwin, executive director of cargo and conveyance security at the Office of Field Operations. The goal is to gain mutual recognition of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and the New Certified Companies Scheme in about two years.
“We have conveyed to the Mexicans that we really need them to step up their work with NEEC highway carriers. It is very important that they have very tight security protocol” for their truck operators, Baldwin said. “That is going to be the most important step to reaching mutual recognition.”
Hinojosa noted both countries face budgetary constraints, forcing CBP to look at other ways “to address the traffic situation without more bricks and mortar.” Some of those ways include posting times when there is minimal border traffic, expanding trusted trader programs and telling shippers about underutilized crossings.
The Commercial Operations of Customs and Border Protection, or COAC, recently formed a subcommittee to identify export chokepoints from a global standpoint, Baldwin said. The larger goal is to help the agency determine whether the chokepoints are caused by IT issues, processing regulation, a lack of staffing or a combination of such factors.
“There are a lot of ways we can clog exports in the same we do with imports,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mexico has completed the first phase of its single-window platform, which is used to distribute essential import information to other federal regulators. Customs is working this year to allow its own single window, known as the International Trade Data System, to accept paper forms as images.
“We have definitely seen a significant level of interest from the Mexican administration in modernizing and really being forward leaning on their processing to make sure they are in position to be competitive globally,” Hinojosa said.