American ShipperTrade and Compliance

Trade remedy to Central American exodus sought

COAC’s Northern Triangle Working Group gains momentum with 50 members and involvement from nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. 

   Can improved trade conditions in Central America help roll back the current tide of migrants from this region who seek refuge in the U.S.? 
   That has been the steadfast belief of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who announced on Feb. 27 that the country’s trade community through the Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee (COAC) would stand up a new working group to develop recommendations to facilitate more efficient cross-border trade flows in and out of Central America.
   The migrants, who mostly hail from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, face conditions of poverty and food insecurity, which are exacerbated by numerous supply chain and customs control barriers at those countries’ borders, McAleenan (pictured above) said.
   Since McAleenan’s announcement, membership in COAC’s Northern Triangle Working Group has swelled to 50 stakeholders, including not only members of the trade but involvement from nongovernmental organizations and the U.N.
   So far, the working group has held numerous weekly calls to try and focus its objectives, said Brian White, director of global logistics and trade compliance for J.M. Smucker Co. and the COAC member who is leading the Northern Triangle Working Group, during the CBP advisory committee’s meeting in Laredo, Texas, on Thursday. 
   “It’s no small task,” he said.
   Kate Weiner, director of North American customs for Cargill and a COAC member involved with the working group, said what’s happening on the U.S. border with the arrival of Central American migrants continues to be one of the biggest issues facing the United States. 
   “As a member of this COAC and participating in that working group, it’s a daunting task,” Weiner said. But she added, “we look forward to the challenge.”
   During their meeting, the COAC members got to view firsthand the processing of migrants by CBP and Border Patrol officers at the Port of Laredo. 
   Lisa Gelsomino, president and CEO of Avalon Risk Management and COAC co-chair, said she was pleased to witness the officers’ overall compassion for the migrants. “We applaud CBP to do this tirelessly and often with little gratitude,” she said.
   While CBP officials welcome the COAC’s enthusiasm for the newfound Northern Triangle Working Group, there remains some concern that the membership size could handicap its focus. There’s a “need to put discipline around it,” said John Leonard, executive director of CBP’s Office of Trade, Trade Policy and Programs. 
   White said the working group plans to provide CBP with more definitive objectives by the next COAC meeting, which will be held in Buffalo, N.Y., on Aug. 21.  

Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.