White House, truckers blast Texas as inspections rumble on Mexican traffic
The delays have raised fears that a US economy already experiencing inflation and supply shortages could face an entirely new set of problems, potentially driving up the prices of some products and making other items even scarcer.
Freight operators are panicking about the ramifications of the delays, as much of the United States’ production at this time of year is imported from Mexico. Abbott said last week that “enhanced security inspections” of all commercial vehicles were necessary because federal authorities were failing to stop drugs and criminals from entering the United States. Now, trucking officials say, few people are entering the country.
“It’s not a regional problem, or that the city of Laredo doesn’t get its products from grocery stores,” said John Esparza, president of the Texas Trucking Association. “We are seeing delays that will be felt across the country. There are half a dozen trucking divisions [affected]. There’s the refrigerated trucking segment, there’s housewares, forestry, tank trucks, cargo for commercial cargo – it’s General Motors, Ford, and whatever comes out of Mexico, our business partner.
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Strawberries, asparagus, avocados, tomatoes and other springtime favorites sit in lines of mile-long refrigerated trucks as growers and shippers scramble to reorient and grocers scramble to find supplies. products from elsewhere in order to avoid empty shelves in the run up to Easter and the Passover holiday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Abbott’s “unnecessary and redundant” inspections of trucks at ports of entry between Texas and Mexico have disrupted food supply chains and automobile, delayed manufacturing, hurt jobs and further increased prices for American families. She said trucks are facing delays of over five hours at some border crossings and commercial traffic has dropped by 60%.
“The continued flow of legitimate trade and travel and the ability of Customs and Border Protection to do its job must not be impeded,” Psaki said. “Governor Abbott’s actions are impacting people’s jobs and the livelihoods of hard-working American families.”
CBP issued its own statement, saying the delays have become extreme. He said the commercial waiting time at the Pharr port of entry fell from 63 minutes to 320 minutes, with a 35% drop in traffic. The Laredo-Colombia International Solidarity Bridge, which typically waits an average of 26 minutes, had “peaked waiting times of 300 minutes and experienced a more than 60% drop in commercial traffic.”
Abbott is expected to hold a press conference on the matter later on Wednesday. He decided last week to impose the new restrictions, alleging that the Biden administration had “open border policies” that “opened the way for the influx of dangerous cartels and deadly drugs into the United States. “.
He said Texas “will immediately begin taking unprecedented action to do what no state has done in American history to secure our border,” which means every truck will be inspected by the Department of Texas Public Safety for human trafficking, weapons, drugs and other contraband. .
Abbott has been governor of Texas since 2015 and is running for re-election in November. He is a frequent critic of the Biden administration, often challenging the White House on a range of policies, including abortion, immigration and transgender rights.
According to Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, up to 80% of perishable fruits and vegetables have been unable to cross since Friday.
This results in losses of millions of dollars a day for employers and employees, who have been idle, he said, with customers unable to load products from their Texas suppliers. It also means transportation shortages are growing as available trucks line up to cross the border, which will continue to drive up the price of produce in U.S. grocery stores.
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“These trucks are already being inspected by Customs and Border Protection – scanned and X-rayed and sniffed by drug dogs,” Jungmeyer said. “These new inspections are redundant. At many ports of entry – Laredo, Pharr, Eagle Pass and others – Mexican drivers are beginning to protest.
Abbott’s office did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
The line for trucks to cross at the Pharr Bridge has been flagged up to seven or eight miles long, said Rod Sbragia, vice president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and director of sales and marketing for Tricar Sales. , a producer and shipper. of Mexican products. He said between 2,000 and 3,000 trucks stood nose to nose waiting for entry. Refrigerated trucks, he said, have about six or seven days of fuel to run their refrigeration units. After that, deterioration is certain.
Sbragia said nothing had crossed the border into Texas for three days and the trucks were so packed there was no way to get out of the line to reorient. He says many workers in Texas aren’t being paid right now because there’s no product to work with and no trucks to load and unload.
“We have about $200,000 to $300,000 worth of product backlog right now,” he said. “And we’re just one shipper. There are hundreds like me. Millions of dollars worth of product sitting on trucks that can end up spoiled. »
The situation is fluid, said Laura Garza, logistics specialist for K&K International Logistics, customs brokers in charge of traffic operations for Texas. But for now, she said, Mexican truckers have, in protest, blocked northbound or southbound traffic on the Pharr Bridge, the No. 1 bridge for product imports into the United States. , leading to Reynosa, Mexico, which typically sees around 2,000 truck passes per day. Traffic is also not moving northbound from the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios, an international border crossing located eight miles south of Harlingen and San Benito.
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“The transport companies say, ‘If it lasts 30 days, we can also hold 30 days in protest.’ You will lose contracts and crops. Why affect trade this way? It does not mean anything. Border communities depend on trade,” she said.
Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for Texas governor, said in a video tweet Monday showing a long line of trucks in Laredo, “What you see behind me is inflation,” outlining what he called the “true cost to Texans”. and all Americans” from “Greg Abbott’s political stunt along the border”.
Matt Mandel is the vice president of finance for the family business, which grows and ships Mexican fruits and vegetables. He heard about the new inspections on Friday. Leaving town, he hoped it would be over by the end of the weekend.
“But the problems got worse and the consequences got worse,” Mandel said. “And I don’t see an easy way to ease the impasse we find ourselves in.”
His company sells 60% of its products in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere in the Northeast. The rest goes to Canada. He had three trucks due out on Friday, he said, and it’s unclear when they might reach their final destination.
“We won’t know if we have any losses until this product has passed through the supply chain. When I have my name on an eggplant and it ends up looking and tasting like crap, that’s what people remember,” he said. “At the end of the day, there will be losses and higher costs for everyone involved. This is literally just partisan politics.
The Mexican government and the private sector reacted angrily to the slowdown, saying it was causing huge economic losses and “inhumane conditions” for truckers caught in the stalemate.
About 3,000 trucks pass through the Pharr crossing on a typical day, but since Texas began intensified inspections, that number has dropped to 500 to 700 trucks, according to Mexico’s National Chamber of Freight Transport. He said the losses were mainly in manufacturing, the automotive sector, technology products and perishables.
The chamber noted that Mexican trucks crossing the border had already passed inspections on the Mexican side.
Mexico’s foreign ministry said the four border crossings in Texas that were subject to the enhanced inspections normally handled a third of the trade between the two countries.
“As an inevitable consequence of this measure, companies in Mexico and the United States lose competitiveness and considerable sums,” he said in a statement.
He pointed to Mexico as Texas’ top export market, with two-way trade of about $442 billion in 2021.
The Mexican government has contacted the State Department, DHS, and the Texas Governor’s office to try to resolve the issue.