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Coming Soon: Increased Trade Efficiency at the United States-Mexico Border


In an aim to increase cross border trade efficiency along the U.S. southern border, Mexico’s government has recently approved legislation to allow armed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to operate at places of international trade within Mexico. Details of the legislation are to be finalized in August and should help boost an already healthy trade relationship with the United States. U.S. ports of entry in Texas and California should see the most immediate effects of the new law, with more efficient cross-border transit times as a direct result of pre-clearing cargo through U.S. Customs on the Mexican side of the border. By allowing armed U.S. CBP agents within Mexico, a single point of inspection will be created, eliminating a double inspection process, thereby streamlining examination procedures. Information can be shared in real time, supporting trade intelligence and security protocols.

The Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) will oversee the issuance of temporary gun permits to individual U.S. agents, allowing them to carry the same U.S. government supplied firearms they are accustomed to. This is not carte blanch arming U.S. agents in Mexico investigating narcotics and smuggling activities. However, the door is now open for future debate and further relationship building outside the scope of international trade.

For more than two years, a little-known pilot program has been managed by Mexican customs officials at the Laredo International Airport, pre-clearing southbound airfreight (albeit through chartered airplanes only), allowing processed shipments to continue to the final consignee in Mexico. Reciprocity of this program, however, had stalled on the Mexican side over concerns about American agents carrying weapons in Mexico. Now, it appears that this hurdle has been overcome, and the pre-clearance program now has a distinct path to implementation.

As with most legislation in both the United States and Mexico, published law does not necessarily translate to common practice. It is still too soon to estimate the exact impact that the program will have on international trade between the two countries. Speculation suggests that the clearing process will become more streamlined which should lead to quicker crossing times. However, multiple service providers—including freight forwarders, draymen, and Mexican customs brokers—will also have to provide buy-in to the changes, which could potentially lead to a longer transition period. Early adopters will most likely be vertical specific manufacturers, such as automotive supply companies who are constantly operating in a just in time environment. Transportation companies with scalable resources along the southern border, such as C.H. Robinson, should be well positioned to support and embrace these changes, and provide executable services. Ultimately, customer demand could expedite border bureaucracy.

Specific to the legislation:

  • Armed agents cannot carry or use any weapon with a caliber of .40 or higher.
  • The weapon must stay only within approved points of the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense.
  • Permits will only be valid for 6 months, and could be suspended at any time for whatever reason.

For more information on this topic, be sure to attend Navigating Mexico: US Cross Border, Customs, and Transportation Best Practices at the 2015 CSCMP Annual Conference in San Diego, CA Sept. 27th-30th.