Shippers hope drug war doesn’t paralyze business

02/11/2011 03:37:24 PM
Jim Offner

West Mexico vegetable growers and shippers have a lot on their minds, with market issues, transportation, fuel costs and other concerns.

They’re also trying to keep their shipments flowing through a major front in Mexico’s war on illegal drugs.

“Cartels operate the same route we use to export our products and transport them to the border,” said Mario Robles, director of the Commission for Research and Protection of Sinaloa Vegetables.

Robles said that the Mexican military has set up numerous checkpoints along major shipping corridors. That brings its own set of issues, he said.

“The problem is that trucks have to be inspected,” he said. “All the trucks must be scanned and sometimes have to be unloaded and inspected. At this point, doors are opened and cold chain is lost. Because the time for inspection is not efficient, trucks have to stand in line for miles on the highway, wasting precious time to be unloaded at a U.S. distributor’s warehouse.”

Produce haulers plying their way toward the U.S. border aren’t taking the only risks, Robles said.

“The other problem of this war is that cartels are fighting themselves, creating insecurity, so it turns risky for growers to routinely attend their fields at the farm,” Robles said.

One of Mexico’s military checkpoints, Querobabi, is about a two-hour drive south of the U.S. port of entry at Nogales, Ariz.

“That’s their main checkpoint of commercial traffic for drugs,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. “Whenever there is a major find of drugs here at the border or if they have intelligence that expects them to think that there might be, they ramp up inspections at the checkpoint.”

That might require a slow, systematic check of all cargo, Jungmeyer said.

“There might be a 100% hand inspection of trucks, and that does slow things down a little bit,” he said.

“Mostly, it puts a truck behind schedule and instead of getting it here on the day you expected it, it comes in the morning after.”

And, Jungmeyer said, such a slowdown can occur with no advance warning.

It’s a fact of life and business, said Chris Ciruli, a partner with Ciruli Bros., Nogales.

“It has certainly slowed us down with the military checkpoints down there, and it’s something we have to try to work through with the Mexican government,” Ciruli said. “It’s an ongoing process of trying to find out what does it make sense to inspect, and how can we streamline product coming north, as well as product going south?”



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