Building a competitive and secure border
CBP commissioner outlines security and management initiatives on US/Mexico border
The United States-Mexico relationship is stronger than ever, and it reflects a mutual commitment to partnerships that benefit both countries, including efforts to improve border security.
“Our dialogue is as strong as ever with our operational partners (in Mexico),” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told attendees of the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute and the Border Trade Alliance during its fifth annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The one-day gathering brought together several hundred people from government and private industry to talk about improving border management to strengthen the competitiveness of both the U.S. and Mexico.
One of the first points of that cooperation is the shared efforts by the U.S. and Mexico to stop the deadly scourge of opioids and methamphetamines flowing into the U.S.
“Most of those hard narcotics are coming in through our land border ports of entry,” the commissioner said. “The profits from these sales are feeding the cycle, which all of you know well, the transnational criminal organizations that are so violent that are threatening our neighbors and Mexican citizens. We need to continue to do more in this area.”
Commissioner McAleenan said the use of non-intrusive inspection technology – basically, big X-ray machines that can scan an entire semitrailer in a matter of just a few minutes as opposed to the hours it might take to search that same vehicle – is one way to search for dangerous contraband, such as illicit drugs, without slowing the wheels of legitimate commerce.
“We have multiple pilot [projects with this equipment] we are exploring this year that I’m very excited about,” he said, pointing to the possibility of a “trusted truck” system that makes the process go even quicker. “That is an exciting and tremendous development.”
Commissioner McAleenan said the U.S. and Mexico also want to stop surges in illegal immigration from Central America, including identifying ways to shore up Mexico’s southern border.
“A secure and competitive border not only depends on our efforts to facilitate lawful trade and travel, it also depends on our shared efforts to address human smuggling,” he said. Loopholes in current laws incentivize too many of the most vulnerable people in the region to work with some of the most violent criminal organizations to try to make a perilous journey, too many times for nothing. “Hundreds of migrants die each year on both sides of the border, including women and children, victims of both criminals and the elements. The costs are too high.”
Commissioner McAleenan said a change in the laws to close these loopholes and cooperation with Mexico are keys to stopping human trafficking in North America. “We can solve these problems.”
Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner in goods and services, with $616 billion in total, two-way commerce in 2017. Commissioner McAleenan pointed to three arrangements between the U.S. and Mexico he signed in March to improve bilateral cooperation in customs processing through trade, agriculture, and cargo inspections.
The first was a memorandum outlining the implementation of unified cargo processing, or UCP, programs, which benefits both countries. It mitigates the need for separate inspections, reducing wait times at the border. That, in turn, lowers costs for the producers, the trade community and consumers while increasing economic and national security for both countries. UCP streamlines the supply chain, cutting border wait times by as much as half, and generating 99 percent trade compliance rate for UCP participants. Users also report a significant reduction in transit inventory cost.
UCP was a pilot project last year, and now, under the March agreement, Commissioner McAleenan said it’s been formalized. “Whether we’re going north or south, are in the truck mode or the air environment, we can work together to partner to facilitate that cargo by doing that inspection together.”
The second arrangement signed during the March visit to Mexico looks to ensure fair and competitive trade by enhancing information and intelligence sharing during coordinated enforcement operations. CBP, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Mexican customs will be able to share information, best practices and expertise regarding issues dealing with illegal transshipments, falsified country of origin declarations, and evasion of anti-dumping and countervailing duties. The agreement also covers intellectual property rights and consumer safety laws and regulations.
The last memo signed was a letter of intent to address agricultural issues.
“Mexico is our No. 1 agriculture trading partner, so it’s only natural to partner with Mexico’s national health service, safety and agri-food agency,” Commissioner McAleenan said. Under the 21st Century Border Management Initiative, CBP and the United States Department of Agriculture work with Mexico’s federal agriculture department to exchange electronically health certificates for agriculture exports.
More agreements with CBP’s Mexican counterparts look to enhance security and enforcement opportunities, facilitate trade, and improve border infrastructure. Commissioner McAleenan said the success of any effort with the U.S.’s neighbor to the south comes down to border security, done in a proactive way.
Commissioner McAleenan concluded by telling those gathered that the U.S. and Mexico enjoy a profound connection – so much more than a common border – with deep economic and cultural ties, as well as a shared commitment to democratic principles.
“I’m very excited about the potential for these efforts,” he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.