WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Mexico and the United States are seeking to make it easier for agricultural products to cross the border between the two countries in a more agile way, without compromising governmental standards applied to food safety, sanity and phytosanitary conditions, as well as other regulatory concerns, according to the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Impetus for undertaking a study to gain understanding and create policies for making U.S.-Mexico trade more streamlined is the full implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the USDA said.

“Mexico and the United States must look to means other than tariff and quota elimination if they are to foster further growth in bilateral agricultural trade,” the USDA said. A focus on improving the border crossing and inspection process, rather than improving border infrastructure, emerged as a time- and cost-effective way to meet current needs for agricultural trade improvements.

The USDA research team conducted about 80 interviews with individuals in the private sector, government and academia from the United States and Mexico who are familiar with bilateral agricultural trade and regulatory processes at the border. The resulting study highlighted problems that occurred around  inspecting agricultural products and crossing the border that could  impede the flow of agricultural trade and lead to high transaction costs, slower transit and even spoilage or slippage of such products.

After gathering information from interviewees, the USDA highlighted six possible categories of opportunities for making U.S.-Mexico agricultural trade more effective.

Border crossings and inspections: Respondents said government and the private sector both have roles in making the border work. Government must conduct inspections consistently to discourage port-shopping by shippers and ensure meaningful results. Personnel must have specialized knowledge and skills, such as identification of insects, collection and testing of samples and familiarity with all agricultural product standards. The private sector requires accurate documentation about the products it trades. Such documentation is indispensable to passing inspections. The private sector must also ensure that agricultural products remain in optimal condition during the shipping process. Refresher courses for exporters on how to comply with U.S. and Mexican regulatory requirements could be of benefit.

Pre-clearance and pre-inspection systems and joint inspections facilities:  U.S. and Mexican inspection operations already reflect creative design approaches to locating some aspects of the inspection process away from the border. One of the more ambitious facilities that could become a model for facilities elsewhere is a joint inspection facility in Tijuana, Baja California, U.S. The U.S. and Mexican governments undertook a 180-day pilot operation to pre-inspect some fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico. Some study respondents thought pre-inspection could be extended to inspection of Mexican trucks and semi-tractor trailers used in short-haul trucking across borders.

Further risk-based inspection systems development: Allocation of resources to specific inspection activities is guided by an assessment of likelihood and severity of risks associated with products subject to inspection. A number of entities perform high-risk inspections included U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Mexico’s Integral System of Inspection Service and Trusted User program.

Advance preparations for new transportation facilities and new shipment routes: Emerging trade patterns may be anticipated by the U.S. and Mexican governments as they adapt border operations to changing economic conditions. Study respondents said the two governments may benefit from working in advance to develop logistics and inspection protocols needed at new facilities and to prepare for possible shifts in volumes of trade.

Complementary activities for Single Window Environments: Mexico and the United States have created electronic systems allowing parties in international trade to enter all necessary information to satisfy regulatory requirements at a single point. Simplifying administrative requirements for bilateral agricultural trade were recommended.

Creation of formal avenues for regulatory innovation: Many respondents suggested ways to reduce time required to sample and test agricultural shipments, chiefly by locating labs closer to the border. Aligning border facility hours more closely with private sector schedules was also recommended, with many interview participants envisioning a border open to agricultural trade 24 hours a day seven days a week.