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White House: Cross-border truck delays hammering supply chains

The White House is pressuring Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to lift added inspections of commercial trucks entering from Mexico as supply chain disruption at the border threatens to spin out of control.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned in a statement Wednesday that cross-border delays caused by the inspections — which Abbott said last week he was putting in place at major crossings to curb illegal immigration — “are causing significant disruptions to the food and automobile supply chains, delaying manufacturing, impacting jobs, and raising prices for families in Texas and across the country.”

“The continuous flow of legitimate trade and travel and [U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s] ability to do its job should not be obstructed,” she added.

The Biden administration confirmed on Tuesday that wait times are exceeding five hours at some crossings, with truck traffic dropping by as much as 60%. “The longer-than-average wait times — and the subsequent supply chain disruptions — are unrelated to CBP screening activities and are due to additional and unnecessary inspections being conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) at the order of the Governor of Texas,” according to CBP.

The agency office has seen a “significant increase” in commercial wait times at ports of entry since the DPS inspections began on Friday. Transit across the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge connecting Reynosa, Mexico, to Pharr, Texas, normally averages a 63-minute wait time but reached a peak of 320 minutes, and there was a 35% drop in commercial traffic, CBP stated on Tuesday.

Truckers take on Abbott

Compounding the problem are blockades set up by truckers in protest of Abbott’s measures. Protests began Monday on the Mexican side of both the Ysleta/Zaragoza Bridge in El Paso and the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.

“Currently, protests being conducted in Mexico blocking access to the [Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge], purportedly over these Texas DPS inspections, have reduced commercial traffic by 100%,” according to CBP.

A CBP official said Mexican and U.S. carriers want to meet with DPS representatives and Gov. Abbott to voice their concerns. “Commercial traffic will not be able to cross into the U.S. and into Mexico while the protest is ongoing,” he said.

One of CBP’s primary functions is to inspect and clear commercial traffic at the border. Last year the agency processed more than 4.9 million commercial trucks at 13 ports of entry, with an estimated import value over $281 billion.

Abbott, a Republican, acknowledged that the added inspections would slow U.S. imports from Mexico. However, “cartels use vehicles, many of them dangerous commercial trucks, to smuggle immigrants, deadly fentanyl and other illegal cargo into Texas and onto our roadways.”

Industry frustration increasing

The Texas Trucking Association (TXTA), meanwhile, contends that the economic costs of Abbott’s policy far outweigh the benefits.

“Motor carriers who are constantly subject to multiple layers of scrutiny at the border have a higher level of compliance and raise the compliance average for the entire state of Texas,” TXTA President and CEO John Esparza stated in a letter to Abbott on Wednesday.

“Therefore, it is an unfortunate reality that these new and additional layers of screening efforts at the border yield little impact on the state’s highest motor carrier safety risks, while adding significant congestion to the border commerce. The supply chain challenges caused by COVID and other global matters are now worsened by the Texas-Federal standoff.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, representing small-business truckers, is “reviewing” the situation, an OOIDA official told FreightWaves.

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said the delays are causing trucks to run out of the diesel fuel that powers refrigerated trailers packed with highly perishable fresh fruits and vegetables. “This means that even when a truck is able to cross the border eventually, the product could be damaged significantly,” he said.

“If DPS inspections stopped today, it would take over a week for the supply chain to return to normal. Unfortunately, the loss of inventory, freshness, and sales will never be recovered, and these losses are a direct economic loss to Texas companies, and lost sales to their customers around North America.”

Shutting down alternatives

Jungmeyer advised its members to divert shipments to border crossings that were not experiencing significant delays. However, the window on such diversions could be closing as trucker protests threaten to spread.

In addition to the crossings at Ysleta/Zaragoza and Pharr/Reynosa, a blockade has since been created on the Mexican side of the Progreso International Bridge, according to a trucker quoted by Texas Public Radio.

“The drivers doing this say they’ve blocked off some bridges to influence officials, but their peers are only going around through the open ones into the U.S.,” Santos Alvarado, a produce trucker, told the media outlet on Tuesday.

“So they’re going to start closing all the bridges now. They’re angry because not all of us have supported them. They’ve already closed the Progreso bridge. They’re going to close … Los Indios and Anzalduas today so no one can get out.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.