Port tour shows complexity of border crossing - The Packer

Port tour shows complexity of border crossing

04/08/2011 12:33:00 PM
Chris Koger

Chris Koger

 A U.S. Customs and Border Protection employee sorts through key limes to detect pests on March 30 at the Pharr-Reynosa Port of Entry south of McAllen, Texas. The agency works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify pests and reject loads if needed.

McALLEN, Texas — When there’s a backlog of trucks full of Mexican fruits and vegetables at the Pharr-Reynosa Port of Entry, it’s easy to blame the government agencies tasked with overseeing imports.

But as a group of industry members from Texas, Arizona, other states and Mexico recently found out, the process involves a handful of agencies working together to prevent everything from pests, untreated wooden pallets, drugs or weapons of mass destruction to enter the U.S.

Port officials gave the group a rare look into how fresh produce is handled at the border crossing March 30, in connection with the inaugural America Trades Produce conference, March 30-April 1.

“It’s important to us for you to see what we do here,” said Gene Garza Jr., who oversees eight ports of entry on the Texas border as the director of field operations for the Laredo office of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“We don’t get a lot of opportunities for visitors,” assistant port director for cargo Javier Cantu said.

An average of 1,700 to 1,800 commercial trucks cross into the U.S. at the port each weekday, said David Pena, cargo supervisor for Customs and Border Protection.

Those numbers are rising, he said.

“This port of entry has constantly grown,” Pena said. “We’re seeing a growth spurt now.”

During low traffic, trucks can be processed — barring any circumstances that trigger an in-depth inspection and off-loading of cargo — in 20-25 minutes, he said. With heavy early morning traffic, that time lag can top 50 minutes. That’s when two overflow lanes can be opened to improve the flow of traffic, with a total of eight lanes, Pena said.

Of all commercial trucks crossing at the Pharr-Reynosa Port, about 25% are fruits and vegetables, port officials said, and about 60% of the produce is a high-volume import crop that carries a low risk for introducing plant pests and diseases — a determination made through the National Agricultural Release Program.

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