Nogales produce cargo could get a faster trip across the border

Christopher Larkins, Program Manager, Trade and Cargo Security, of the Tucson field office for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, talks with Mexican grape growers and marketers about programs to speed up border crossings at the Mexico Table Grapes Spring Summit in Tubac, AZ, on March 21.

TUBAC, AZ—The nearly $3 billion in produce crossings at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales could get a faster ride through the border checkpoint if plans for a new cargo lane move forward as quickly as Customs and Border Protection hope.

Christopher Larkins, Program Manager, Trade and Cargo Security, of the Tucson field office for U.S. Customs and Border Protection addressed attendees at the Mexico Spring Summit meeting of the Association of Table Grape Growers on March 21.

Larkins said the border’s first unified cargo processing lane was a fast transition for border agents, and the CPB is looking to establish a similar lane for fresh produce shipments.

The first lane was estimated to reduce crossing time from a range of 3.5 hours to 8 hours down to 1.2 hours to 1.5 hours.

“We were processing trucks in 15 minutes,” he said. “This was the first time the public has said to the federal government ‘you are moving too fast.’”

The problem, he said, is that fresh produce shipments couldn’t qualify for the Unified Cargo Processing lane because the security measures required, like 100% fenced facilities and 100% lighting, are not feasible on a farm.

The solution, in early stages of planning, is a balance between a Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism-verified carrier, along with electronic processing of produce shipments.

“The carrier is the person who is the weakest link in the supply chain,” Larkins said. “They’re unsupervised. We need a carrier who we know takes this seriously.”

Larkins said the mid-level security lane for fresh produce is in the planning stages and could move forward once all the stakeholders are able to give input.

“We’re going to start meeting with our trade partners to discuss what they think is a good compromise,” he said.

 

Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.