SAN DIEGO — Back-ups at U.S. ports and U.S.-Mexican border crossings are projected to grow worse as governmental agencies grapple with continued staffing shortages, import volumes increase and looming food safety regulations that likely will increase inspections.
That was the grim forecast provided by two international trade experts during an afternoon United Fresh Tech Learning Center presentation on May 16.
“I see no strategic relief on the horizon,” said Bruce McEvoy, director of global affairs for Seald Sweet LLC/Univeg Group, Vero Beach, Fla.
During his tenure with the produce industry, McEvoy said he’s seen imports grow as consumers increasingly demand year-round fruits and vegetables, citing citrus as an example.
In the 1990s, summer citrus imports were almost nonexistent, and retailers weren’t receptive.
“Retailers had this perception that consumers wouldn’t eat fresh citrus in the summer time — why, flavor fatigue, competing fruits and overall costs,” he said.
That proved to be untrue, and the imported citrus market has grown to more than 200 million metric tons this season compared with only 15 million metric tons in the mid-1990s, McEvoy said.
click image to zoomVicky Boyd(from left to right), Lance Jungmeyer, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz.; John McClung, former president and chief executive officer of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association; Dan Vache, United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.; and Jane Proctor, Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Ottawa, Ontario, discuss border crossing issues after the presentation.To meet U.S. pest requirements, South African citrus, for example, undergoes a 24-day cold treatment in transit. Any holds put on the shipment for further inspections or testing once it arrives could further degrade it, he said.
“By the time that cargo gets to the states, it doesn’t have any legs,” McEvoy said. “If it’s delayed three to five days, it’s not good for the market.”
Unscheduled delays could cause the shipment to miss the retailer’s scheduled promotional window.
McEvoy said shipments already are being detained for routine inspections by the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and Home Security Agency, all of which are understaffed.
Although the portion of the Food Safety Modernization Act that applies to imports has yet to be published, McEvoy said he expects a greater number of loads will be detained for increased inspections and testing.
Back-ups at the border
John McClung, former president and chief executive officer of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association who still consults for the group, said increases in import volumes crossing the U.S.-Mexican border also have created backlogs.
About 98% of all Mexican produce imports enter through land ports in Texas, Arizona, California and to a lesser extent, New Mexico, he said.