Background

Shipments to and from Mexico have seen significant delays amid a new initiative by the state of Texas to inspect cargo trucks for safety issues. Some of those delays were easing as of April 14 but importers and exporters could still see impacts for some time.

On April 6 Texas governor Greg Abbott ordered the state’s Department of Public Safety to “conduct enhanced safety inspections of vehicles as they cross international ports of entry into Texas.” According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, these state inspections are taking place after the trucks exit U.S. ports of entry after being “comprehensively inspected and cleared” by CBP, with each one taking up to an hour. Abbott said he had ordered the inspections to combat an anticipated “significant rise in cartel-facilitated smuggling via unsafe vehicles” after the pending expiration of a federal law that has allowed expedited removal of migrants to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Almost immediately trucks transporting cargo across the Texas-Mexico border began to see lengthy delays, with CBP reporting wait times of up to 12 hours at some crossings and declines in commercial traffic by as much as 60 percent. The situation was worsened when Mexican truckers blocked access to some border bridges to protest the inspections, halting commercial traffic altogether at those locations.

CBP said shipments of perishable goods like fruits, vegetables, and meat products; medical supplies and medicines; electronics; auto parts; and manufacturing supplies necessary to keep U.S. factories open were among those caught up in the delays. In response, CBP expanded operations at other ports of entry to process trade diverted from border crossings where shipments were being slowed or halted.

On April 13 Gov. Abbott signed an agreement with the governor of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon in which Abbott agreed to stop the additional inspections at the Laredo-Colombia Solidarity International Bridge in return for “enhanced border security enforcement measures” and cooperative efforts on vehicle safety and human trafficking. Abbott said the governors of three other Mexican states bordering Texas – Tamaulipas, Coahuila, and Chihuahua – have expressed interest in similar agreements but added that until those are concluded the additional truck inspections will continue, meaning continued delays at the bridges and crossings handling the bulk of cross-border trade.

According to press reports, CBP said that as of April 13 Mexican truckers had ceased their blockades of the Ysleta-Zaragoza Bridge in El Paso and the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge closer to the Gulf of Mexico, which a Texas Tribune article said is “the busiest trade crossing in the Rio Grande Valley” and “handles $60 million to $70 million in American imports daily of produce and goods from Mexico.” Commercial traffic will thus be able to resume at these crossings, though it will continue to be slowed by the Texas inspections.

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