Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge's Luis Bazan and Grow Farms Texas' Tommy Wilkins Comment on Border Delays
TEXAS-MEXICO BORDER - Late last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, announced that the CBP would reassign 750 CBP officers to the border to address the “dramatic increase in illegal crossings that continue to occur along the Southwest border.” The reassignment of officers has resulted in significant delays across the U.S.-Mexico border, prompting calls for state and federal assistance to facilitate the movement of perishables across the border.
This week, the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge implemented a new pilot intended to ameliorate delays. I spoke with Luis Bazan, Bridge Director, to learn more about the pilot.
“To us, the major concern, like any other port of entry, is our trade—our trucks making it across the border and getting them to their destinations in a timely fashion. Cargo is precious. It’s our number one priority,” Luis told me. “In an effort to speed up the process and reduce border wait times, we decided to take matters into our own hands in communication and collaboration with CBP, with SAT, CBP’s counterpart in Mexico, and some of our stakeholders in Mexico and some of our customs brokers associations both in Mexico and the U.S.”
To facilitate travel across the border, the bridge accelerated a program it had introduced this January and extended that pilot to larger trucks.
“In mid-January, we had started a pilot program before any of this negative rhetoric about the border shutdown and CBP officers being sent to combat the immigration crisis on the Southern border,” Luis explained. “We had started a pilot program for small empty conveyances—short trucks not trailers—because we were approaching peak season in produce, and we wanted to ensure that we had enough room inside the import lot for what we expect in terms of traffic for peak season produce. We decided to implement that program—to open up a passenger lane for northbound small empty trucks that met certain CBP requirements, and it has been working really nicely. It’s even exceeded our expectations. As of yesterday, we started sending 40 footers—42 footers—tanker trucks. These are empty tanker trucks. They don’t have any product in them. These are completely empty, so they meet the CBP’s requirements, and now we’re able to release them through that same passenger lane.”
Intended as a simple text pilot, the bridge’s staff is now looking at extending the program through the duration of CBP staffing shortages.
“It was only supposed to be a test pilot…next week on Tuesday, we’ll reconvene. We’ll regroup with all the stakeholders and with our trade partners and look at the pros and cons—what worked and what didn’t—and make adjustments if necessary,” said Luis. “We’re solving problems over here. I think it would be really easy to sit around and conference call and complain about the situation—obviously there are a lot of complaints across the board. But Pharr is taking pride in actually setting the example with solutions.”
The need for solutions is critical, Grow Farms Texas’ Director of Sales Tommy Wilkins told me, because the impending holidays mean a ramping up of supply from Mexico and demand from the U.S.
“Holy Week—or Semana santa—is followed closely by Cinco de Mayo this year, and adding to the issue, labor shuts down for Good Friday and Easter,” Tommy explained. “Right now, we are ramping up inventory to cover the three or four day slowdown on harvest. This has added traffic while staff at the border is stretched thin. And, to add to that, tomatoes seem to be coming in heavier prior to the tariff issue in early May. Immigrants seem to be crossing at high numbers. It’s the perfect storm. And the bridge will be closing at 2 p.m. this Friday to add to the crunch.”
Tommy told me that the effects are not just being felt on the supply side.
“Easter is a big family meal—creating big business at retail,” Tommy said. “This is big family cooking time. Retailers are already reporting that delays are affecting loading, and that could affect inventories at retail.”
Will “the perfect storm” lead to shortages on the shelf and hurt the bottom line of companies up and down the supply chain? AndNowUKnow will continue to bring you updates.