U.S. Customs and Border Protection is finalizing talks with five entities to allow some U.S.-Mexico shippers to fund additional Customs and Border Protection staffing during busy times or for extended hours as part of a pilot project.
Of 17 applicants, Customs has selected five projects in California, Florida and Texas in which shippers, and travelers, would fund certain CBP staffing costs, giving them more flexibility and capacity to import Mexican goods. The agency expects to finish negotiations with the five entities by the end of the year, said John Wagner, acting deputy assistant commissioner of the office of field operations.
The success of the five-year public-private partnerships could spur Congress to allow Customs to expand the “reimbursable fee agreement” initiative, helping the agency deal with growing cross-border trade and limited funding. Customs wants to expand the pilot program in fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1, Wagner said.
The five project participants chosen were Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport; the City of El Paso, Texas; South Texas Assets Consortium; Houston Airport System; and Miami-Dade County. It’s not clear how many of the public-private partnerships will involve cargo clearance, Wagner said.
The pilot program has its critics. Nelson Balido, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, said the pilot could hurt other U.S.-Mexico entry ports that can’t participate in the program. And, he warned, shippers in pilot cities “need to watch their bottom lines closely as this new scheme ramps up to ensure they’re not getting hit with backdoor tax increases as the cities go looking for the money to pay for the program.”
The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, which represents U.S. distributors of Mexican fresh fruits and vegetables, called the pilot allowing one port of entry to claim an advantage in processing times over others, based solely on an ability to levy fees, “problematic.”
“We are just looking at providing additional capacity to process cargo and people,” Wagner said. “We are not looking to pit one port of entry against another port of entry.”