An uncommon occasion marking what organizers referred to as “the beginning of the produce season” was lately held on the US aspect of a world port of entry connecting Mexico with Pharr, Texas. It was a unique type of ribbon-cutting ceremony, in entrance of a crowd of tons of gathered beneath a big tent resulting in the bridge connecting america and Mexico.
Native dignitaries from each side of the border got a fruit or vegetable imported from Mexico and requested to chop it, which they dutifully did to the delight of the group. Then got here the free-for-all. The group was given luggage and advised to take what they wished from a fastidiously staged backdrop of each kind of fruit and vegetable that comes by means of this area. Whereas this quaint custom has been a mainstay of the area for years, this yr might make the occasion extra important, asthe United States struggles with provide chain issues within the wake of the pandemic.
That’s as a result of the produce-importing capability of this landlocked port of entry might present an answer that may assist alleviate the issues which were created by the backlog of ships ready to dump cargo on the ports of Los Angeles and Lengthy Seashore, which account for 40% of all transport containers coming into the US. When President Biden lately announced that the Los Angeles port would keep open 24 hours a day, seven days every week to alleviate the backlog, a complete of 64 ships had been berthed on the two ports and an extra 80 had been parked within the Pacific ready their flip to unload.
Consultants are already predicting a Christmas scarcity of sure items, notably these coming from Asia.
What does Mexican produce coming by means of a landlocked south Texas port should do with this backlog? It could be the important thing to growing a brand new commerce route that avoids California and makes use of Mexican ports to get into the US by way of south Texas. It could even present the potential for a brand new mode of transportation that might alleviate rising visitors issues on our nation’s highways.
The secret’s the newly reworked Mexican Federal Freeway 40, or the Carretera Interoceánica (Interoceanic Freeway). This can be a highway that runs from close to the Port of Mazatlán on the Pacific coast to Reynosa, Mexico, simply throughout the border from a number of cities in south Texas and is linked by a number of ports of entry, together with the Pharr Worldwide Bridge.
The 1,145 km route bisects the northern portion of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains by means of 63 tunnels and 115 bridges, together with the Baluarte Bridge, the very best suspension bridge on the planet. And the freeway offers direct entry from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Latest enhancements to this roadway have dropped the drive time throughout Mexico to a few hours from eight.
Produce grown close to the Pacific coast of Mexico had as soon as been transported north for import into america by means of California. However the opening of the reworked Mexican freeway, notably within the mountain area, gave growers a brand new choice – a route by means of Texas.
Pharr, in south Texas, now boasts that it’s the busiest importer of Mexican produce in america and is a conduit for greater than $33bn in commerce with Mexico in 2020. This contains $21bn price of imports and $11bn in exports. The Pharr bridge ranks primary for avocados, transport practically 50% and greater than $1bn of that fruit. It’s primary in pineapple imports; quantity two for berries; and quantity three for tomatoes.
Because the produce boon started a number of years in the past, native realtors started joking that houses in neighborhoods that had been common with drug sellers had been being bought to supply importers. This area already has a big presence of factories referred to as maquiladoras, twin crops that enable producers to arrange a manufacturing facility on the US aspect of the border, transport partially constructed merchandise to twin crops on the Mexican aspect of the border the place labor prices are decrease, and ship again completed merchandise to the US aspect at decrease tariff charges due to the manufacturing course of right here. Reynosa, Mexico, throughout the border from Pharr, McAllen and Mission, has greater than 200 manufacturing plants representing 155 corporations and using 100,000 employees.
So even the success of produce imports is dwarfed by product imports from these twin crops corresponding to televisions and pc screens, which symbolize the highest import over the Pharr bridge at double the income wrought from avocados.
Some local people leaders are starting to marvel aloud if the success of the produce imports is usually a mannequin for different merchandise. Can the circulation of products from Asia to California take a barely southern path to the Port of Mazatlán? From there, the merchandise could be off-loaded and shipped throughout Mexico on Freeway 40 for import into america in south Texas.
As soon as throughout the worldwide boundary, shippers have two choices: they’ll transfer their merchandise by way of freeway on vehicles which can be starting their US journey by means of the center of the nation by means of Texas reasonably than the far west coast of California. Bigger shipments could be transported half-hour east from the worldwide border to the Port of Brownsville or pushed 5 hours to the Port of Houston.
As provide chain points proceed to fester in america, new issues are being raised about disruptions to food products. This brings a way of urgency to discussions of latest commerce routes and raises the profile of import areas corresponding to Pharr, which has a rising stock of chilly storage items to quickly hold produce and different meals.
There are even mid-term and long-term potentialities that may make a brand new Asia-Mexico-Texas commerce route extra viable, particularly as an alternative choice to the west coast port congestion – rail shipments supplementing truck shipments and an revolutionary know-how that might make rail and truck visitors seamlessly combine right into a multi-modal planner’s dream.
The Freight Shuttle Xpress is being designed along side Texas A&M College’s Transportation Institute. It integrates what it calls “electric-powered transporters” able to holding truck and transport containers from one location to a different. And in one of the best custom of Walt Disney, these transporters would journey by way of a monorail system that may very well be constructed into the medians of current highways. The strategy would save on acquisition prices, together with potential years-long eminent area courtroom fights for brand new right-of-way.
It could additionally alleviate rising visitors issues, notably alongside Texas’s foremost road, the Interstate 35 hall that cuts by means of the state. A 2016 study stated that 2.2bn tons of freight moved by means of Texas, a determine projected to go as much as 3.8bn tons by the yr 2040.
The Freight Shuttle Xpress tried to boost funding funding a number of years in the past to start a mission emanating from the Port of Houston, however didn’t elevate sufficient cash. However a route emanating from south Texas has the attract of attracting Mexican funding at a time when a backlog of products because of the pandemic favors new concepts.
Carlos Sanchez is director of public affairs for Hidalgo county, Texas. He was a journalist for 37 years and has labored on the Washington Submit and Texas Month-to-month journal, in addition to eight different newsrooms. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org