AL DÍA:Traveling the Texas-Mexico Border

2/28/2012, Eric Olson and Chris Wilson of the Mexico Institute are currently driving the  Texas-Mexico border, beginning in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, ending in Brownsville/Matamoros, and blogging along the way.

Day 7. Thoughts from Nuevo Laredo and Laredo: We’ve met with several people working in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo over the past two days, and it is clear that trade here is very different than trade in the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez area. While Nuevo Laredo does have approximately 45 Maquiladoras, the main industry in both Laredo’s is transportation.

The World Trade Bridge has more truck traffic than any other US port of entry, and the vast majority of it transports goods between the interiors of each country. On I-35 north of Laredo, the number of commercial trucks almost matches the number of passenger vehicles. The highway to Monterrey is similarly important on the Mexican side.

The amount of commerce passing through this area is incredible–and growing. While the World Trade Bridge seems well managed, the shear volume of traffic means that long lines of trucks can appear very quickly. Flexibility in staffing levels and inspection techniques, in conjunction with the use of technology, are important tools to address waves of traffic.

Perhaps most important, though, is the use of risk segmentation, or risk management. Based on the information received both in advance of a shipment and at the point of primary inspection, a CBP officer must quickly make a determination regarding whether or not to refer a truck to secondary inspection. In addition to physical signs of nervousness, red flags for the officer could include things like the type of commodity, the route the driver is traveling, the identity of the carrier, and the identity of the importer. In addition to finding information that could increase an officer’s suspicion regarding a load, there are also ways to increase confidence. Companies and carriers can enroll in programs like CTPAT and FAST, voluntarily offering extra information to authorities and taking measures to improve the security of their loads. In exchange for providing the information, they are ushered through the inspection process more quickly (unless the officer finds some sort of anomaly). Right now, about 25% of the trucks coming through Laredo have FAST–increasing this number would facilitate legitimate trade while allowing CBP to focus its efforts on finding illicit trade.

Despite intense fighting between the Zetas and the military in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, the local economy is still moving. The Maquiladora industry recovered jobs lost during the recent recession and are expected to add more jobs in 2012. Mexican importers, exporters, and those in logistics all continue to work, but a large portion now do so from the US side of the border. Research has shown that the provision of basic services in Nuevo Laredo, such as trash collection, declined significantly over the past two years, signalling a declining population.

The contrast between growing trade and industry on the one hand and still high levels of organized crime and violence on the other is sharp. It leads one to wonder just how dynamic the region could be without violence and a weak rule of law slowing it down.

–Chris Wilson

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