When John McClung stepped down as head of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association last year, he transferred his leadership talents to the organization’s voluntary Border Issues Management Program.
The produce association initiated the program to deal with border concerns ranging from congestion to food safety to infrastructure needs.
As he prepared to retire from his position as coordinator of BIMP on Nov. 22, McClung said program has made significant progress over the past year.
“Things are going nicely for us,” he said.
Most notably, the association saw a 13% increase in membership in 2013.
“For any regional produce association to get that kind of a jump in membership is a pretty rare thing these days,” he said.
McClung attributed much of that membership boost to the addition of importers and those involved with the import industry.
“Everybody in the industry that’s involved with imports/exports recognizes that is — at least for South Texas — going to be a huge part of our future,” he said.
When the Mazatlan-Durango Highway opens, possibly early next year, however, challenges at the U.S./Mexico border crossing are only likely to increase.
Import volume could rise 30% in south Texas, and shipments could double over time as production in Mexico increases, McClung said.
“We’re looking at very substantial increases,” he said, and that’s a concern because there already are infrastructure issues at the port of entry.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Customs and Border Patrol and Food and Drug Administration inspectors are one of those issues.
“There aren’t enough of them,” McClung said.
The government is aware of the lack of manpower, he said, “But what can you do about it in tight economic times?”
Many Nogales, Ariz., distributors already have opened branches in south Texas to handle product coming in via the Pharr-Reynosa bridge and other bridges, all of which require federal inspectors.
“We worry that the increase in volume will be more than can be handled efficiently,” McClung said.
The Food Safety Modernization Act will be another issue.
“That’s a huge deal,” McClung said.
One section of the proposed regulations covers imports and says about 25,000 facilities in Mexico will have to be approved by FDA. They’ll have to register and implement programs to ensure food safety, he said.
“Basically, they have to meet the same requirements as domestic facilities,” McClung said.