Industries Report Continued Fallout From Texas-Mexico Bridge Slowdowns

Date: Monday, April 18, 2022
Source: The Wall Street Journal

PHARR, Texas—Industries say they are still grappling with supply-chain fallout after a week of expanded mechanical inspections ordered by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on transport trucks crossing from Mexico into Texas.

Mr. Abbott, a Republican, has dialed back the inspections in recent days, announcing Friday that he would allow the final international bridges in the state to return to normal operations, just over a week after his new policy began.

“The bridges…will return to normal, beginning immediately,” Mr. Abbott said.

The searches and resulting protests spurred dayslong shipment delays and slowed the typically brisk trade of goods between Mexico and Texas, which accounts for some $440 billion annually.

At the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, which crosses nearly a third of all fresh produce trucked into the U.S. from Mexico, 18-wheelers filtered out slowly Thursday and Friday from an inspection lot where state troopers and mechanics lifted hoods to check their engines and slid underneath the vehicles. The inspections, which took about an hour per truck, left truckers waiting more than 36 hours to cross and spurred a protest blockade in Mexico that closed the bridge completely for nearly three days.

The disrupted week impacted at least $180 million in fresh fruit and vegetables, according to the Texas International Produce Association, and eliminated some $20 million in Texas produce-related economic production. The association doesn’t yet have an estimate for its complete losses.

“We don’t know what the condition of the produce is that is stuck in those trailers,” said Dante Galeazzi, president of the association. “I have to assume that a lot of this fresh produce that’s been stuck in those trucks for several days is going to come across and it’ll be worth nothing or pennies on the dollar.”

Mr. Galeazzi and others who work in the trucking industry estimated that it will take at least a week to normalize the supply chain, possibly longer, as the disruptions have occurred over a holiday week. Holy Week, known as Semana Santa in Mexico, is typically one of the busiest weeks for international bridges as people on both sides of the border travel, go to the beach and visit family for Easter. Some Mexican producers are now having to destroy loads of produce that they cannot ship in time, Mr. Galeazzi said.

Mr. Abbott, who has increasingly sought to exert state control over border security, initially framed the mechanical inspections of commercial trucks as a border security issue, saying cartels often use unsafe vehicles to smuggle people and drugs into the country. As of Thursday, the Texas Department of Public Safety had checked 6,096 commercial vehicles and turned back 1,423 for issues with headlights, taillights, brakes or tires. The inspections, which occurred after trucks had already passed through federal customs, didn’t find any drugs or immigrants, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Mr. Abbott began rolling back the inspection orders at Texas bridges in recent days as he reached agreements with governors of four neighboring Mexican states. The agreements contain few specifics, but generally say the states will work cooperatively to ensure that trucks meet mechanical safety standards and to reduce illegal border traffic. In one case, the governor of Chihuahua agreed to continue implementing a $200 million camera surveillance program it has already begun.

The final agreement was approved Friday afternoon with the state of Tamaulipas, which shares the most international bridges with Texas, including the Pharr bridge, Laredo’s World Trade Bridge, which is the country’s largest inland port, and five others in the Rio Grande Valley.

Despite the fact that mechanical checks of trucks haven't found immigrants, Mr. Abbott said he would not hesitate to reinstate them universally if immigration numbers into Texas increase. “That financial pain is necessary to get the public to insist that their government leaders, such as the presidents of both countries involved, take the action that is needed,” he said.

Most commercial trucks crossing the border do so for only a short time and distance. Mexican truckers may haul two to four loads a day over international bridges to Texas border region warehouses or cold storage facilities, where the products are later picked up by American truckers and transported nationwide. As they are paid per load, dayslong delays made it impossible for them to earn a living, truckers protesting in Mexico said.

As the Texas state inspections blocked up traffic on some major points of entry, trucks sought to pass through smaller ones. In the Rio Grande Valley, bridges in Progreso, Rio Grande City and Roma, each with just one or two lanes for commercial traffic, extended their hours to deal with traffic trying to avoid the larger bridges.

In the El Paso area, Miriam Baca Kotkowski, president of Tecma Transportation Services, saw her business of transporting construction materials and manufacturing parts from Mexican factories slow from over 100 truck loads a day to about 30, she said. She began sending her trucks over the small Santa Teresa port of entry into New Mexico, she said. The disruption delayed parts to a Michigan-based circuit manufacturer, a California toy company, a construction site waiting for trusses and other clients, she said.

Shipments are returning to normal now, after Mr. Abbott eased inspections in El Paso Thursday, but Ms. Kotkowski said she’s frustrated and confused by the maneuvering.

“The trade community, we’re being used as pawns,” she said.

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