U.S., Mexico collaborate on trade facilitation.
By Eric Kulisch
A border management action plan adopted Dec. 15 by a working group of U.S. and Mexican officials lists expansion of trusted traveler and shipper programs, and the establishment of pilot projects for cargo preclearance in both countries as top goals for the following year, according to a Mexican Foreign Ministry news release.
The action plan is the product of the first meeting of the Executive Steering Committee on 21st-Century Border Management, created by U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calder'n in May 2010 to make the border more secure and supportive of economic growth.
Both sides hope to reduce the cost of doing business in North America by streamlining regulatory requirements and reducing congestion and emissions from idling trucks, the announcement said.
The action plan calls for coordination of infrastructure construction, risk-management strategies, law enforcement and other governmental functions.
On infrastructure, the two governments pledged to support several border projects on the drawing board, and identify possible funding mechanisms and optimal staffing levels at ports of entry. Short-term goals include completing construction of northbound commercial vehicle lanes between the Port of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo in Mexico, and breaking ground on the West Rail Bypass between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, also in the state of Tamaulipas.
The steering committee, with representation from multiple agencies in each government, also committed to follow-risk management principles and better share information to help speed low-risk travelers and cargo across the border.
Trusted traveler and shipper programs are to be expanded by increasing enrollment and incentives to participate. In Mexico's case, that will first require standing up a program comparable to the U.S. Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has helped Mexican Customs accelerate development of its own trusted shipper program, to be called the Alliance for Secure Commerce. Mexican Customs has created a concept of operations and is hiring staff. It plans to launch a pilot program for private sector supply chain security in early 2011, C-TPAT program director Bradd Skinner told American Shipper.
Mexico agreed in the action plan to follow security standards and a validation process for member companies that aligns with C-TPAT. The May framework agreement that created the steering committee envisions both countries eventually recognizing each other's certified shipper and traveler programs.
The working group also agreed to harmonize toll payment mechanisms to encourage Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (registered travelers) and Free And Secure Trade program (registered truck drivers and carriers) participants to use multiple ports of entry.
Mexican and U.S. officials said they will test concepts for preclearance, prescreening and preinspection of people and travelers to alleviate congestion at ports of entry. The effort will require development of a joint cost-benefit analysis of potential preclearance models, identifying potential test locations, creating common inspection standards, and making legislative and regulatory changes in both countries to authorize inland enforcement and the use of private sector funds for staffing and operating costs.
The action plan mentions the Laredo airport and the Nogales-Mariposa port of entry as potential sites for a preclearance pilot.
Nelson Balido, president of the Border Trade Alliance, said his organization has discussed preclearance during recent meetings with Mexican Customs. The talks have focused on putting Mexican customs agents in San Antonio ' an interior city ' and U.S. customs agents in Monterrey to preclear goods to their final destination. In addition to the legal and financial planning required to implement such a bilateral program, both governments need to determine if there is enough demand to justify the new arrangement, he said.
The BTA has also asked CBP and Mexican Customs to create a pilot port where U.S. and Mexican officers work side by side enforcing their respective laws and conducting joint inspections.
The trade advocacy group has also talked to Mexican Customs, CBP and Congress about using some M'rida Initiative funds to create secure travel corridors in Mexico to prevent drug gangs from hijacking trucks or stopping them and forcing drivers to accept a load of contraband hidden in the regular shipment. (The M'rida Initiative is a security effort by the United States to support Mexico and other Central American states with financial, technical and intelligence support in the fight against drug traffickers, transnational criminal enterprises and money laundering.)
The general idea is to have law enforcement patrols along main cargo routes, which ultimately should be private toll roads with no exits except to manufacturing centers and ports of entry, the BTA said in September as part of a proposal to reduce the impact of the unstable security situation in Mexico on cross-border trade. The roads would be monitored by high-tech video cameras and each truck would be equipped with satellite-based tracking systems to monitor its location and any potential stops along the route. They also would be outfitted with tamper-resistant seals. Commercial vehicles following all the best practices would be allowed expedited treatment at the border, the BTA suggested.
To increase the efficiency of ports of entry, Mexico and the United States plan to identify ways to reduce wait times and make information about delays easily available to travelers and shippers. The first step is to conclude ongoing pilot studies on border wait times at seven border crossings to develop a baseline for improvement. The governments will also identify funding sources to implement any new practices and study how to improve existing high-tech traffic control systems such as electronic tolling. And they plan to explore ways to streamline regulations related to cross-border rail traffic, according to the action plan.
Progress on this front is already underway with a pilot program that began last June to staff the rail crossing at Eagle Pass 24 hours per day so that trains don't have to line up after 5 p.m. waiting for non-intrusive inspections the next day and can avoid congestion. The trains can pass through the automated imaging machines at about 10 mph, but customs personnel are required to check the scans and pull trains to a siding if any secondary inspection is required.
|Mexico and the United States plan to identify ways to reduce wait time and make information about delays easily available to travelers and shippers.|
Eagle Pass is one of the fastest growing rail gateways in the Union Pacific system. The railroad, which handles most of the traffic through the crossing, invested $800,000 in a new rail inspection building for CBP officers in July 2009, UP spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said.
Balido said the six-month trial and the added flexibility for shippers facilitated the increase in rail traffic, much of it from new maquiladora factories in Mexico and Grupo Modelo's new, technically advanced brewery in Piedras Negras, across the border. Company officials anticipate using 100 northbound railcars per day, and bringing 100 empties southbound, once they are up to full production capacity next year, he said.
Expanded operating hours for motor carriers is not useful in Eagle Pass right now because truckers are fearful of violence at night and are less likely to work, while trains can continue to operate. The Eagle Pass government is behind the initiative because spreading trains out throughout the day reduces congestion in the middle of the city during peak business hours, Balido said. A request by the local port director and regional field office to make the new rail hours permanent is under review by officials at CBP headquarters, Laredo sector spokesman Rick Pauza said.
CBP last year began imaging all southbound rail traffic to help stop the flow of guns and cash to Mexican drug gangs, but the arrangement also requires Mexican Customs to find resources for extra staff and overtime pay.
The action plan also calls for both sides to set up bi-national stakeholder meetings, including members of the supply chain industry and local governments, to gain feedback on security and trade facilitation policies. Balido complained that many of the bilateral meetings on the 21st Century Border have been closed to the private sector.
The governments also plan to study business resumption options to ensure continuity of checkpoint operations following an emergency or disaster.
Surface transport-related trade between the United States and its North American Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico was up 14.9 percent in October, compared to the same monthly period in 2009, reaching $70.6 billion, according to the U.S. Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
However, the value of trade for the month remained 2.9 percent below the October 2008 level, the agency said.
BTS considers truck, rail and pipeline as part of its surface transportation calculations. In October, 86.1 percent of U.S. trade by value with Canada and Mexico moved on land.
BTS reported that U.S.-Canada surface transportation trade totaled $40.7 billion in October, up 12.2 percent compared to October 2009. The value of imports carried by truck was 11.6 percent higher during the period compared to October 2009, while the value of exports carried by truck was 13.7 percent higher. Michigan led all states in surface trade with Canada in October with $5.3 billion.
U.S.-Mexico surface transportation trade reached $29.9 billion in October, up 18.8 percent compared to October 2009. The value of imports carried by truck was 17.2 percent higher in October 2010 than October 2009 while the value of exports carried by truck was 13.8 percent higher.
BTS noted Texas led all states in surface trade with Mexico in October with $10.9 billion. October was the third straight month in which Texas trade with Mexico by surface modes exceeded $10 billion.
BTS makes its monthly trans-border freight statistics available on its Web site, at www.bts.gov/programs/international/transborder/.