Approximately 40-50 produce import industry representatives participated in a recent roundtable discussion which was attended by top level executives from USDA-APHIS and CBP. The meeting was coordinated by TIPA and hosted at the Tierra del Sol conference room located in Pharr, Texas.
“This was a great opportunity for our industry to speak directly to decision makers at APHIS and CBP. We have been making positive strides in working with these agencies to try and expedite the movement of fresh produce through Texas ports,” said Bret Erickson, President and CEO of Texas International Produce Association. “The volumes of imported fresh produce through Texas ports are outpacing every other region in the country. Texas is the largest importer of fresh fruits and vegetables, which is great for the state economy, but we have to do more to help expedite those trucks.”
Representatives from USDA-APHIS and CBP were numerous and included Ms. Rebecca Bech, Associate Deputy Administrator for APHIS and Mr. Kevin Harriger, Director of Agricultural Programs for CBP. Both are based in Washington DC and spent time touring Texas ports of entry to gain a deeper understanding of the import industry’s needs.
The primary issues which were raised during the discussion centered around providing more service coverage, particularly during busy periods of the year. Attendees were in agreement that APHIS needed more hours of identification coverage at the ports and at the identification lab in Washington DC, especially on weekends and holidays. There was also consensus that officials at the local ports needed more authority to make identifications and provide a final disposition on the load, either to reject or accept the load and not have to wait for inter-agency decisions.
One of the immediate action items to come out of the roundtable was APHIS would begin providing generic insect finding reports every two weeks that were to be shared with industry as well as APHIS International Services in Mexico City. The intention was to push that information back to the growers in Mexico who may be experiencing outbreaks of certain insects.