To expedite imports, U.S. Customs and Border Protection are in talks with Mexican officials to screen some fresh produce and other agricultural commodities in Mexico instead of at the U.S. border.

A pre-screening facility in Mexico, near the Otay Mesa port of entry, has already been built for the project, said Joanne Ferreira, a CBP spokeswoman.

The first phase of the project would be a pilot only, Ferreira said. A timeline for when it could begin has not been established, she said.

Even if the pre-screening facility in Mexico is used, CBP would retain the authority to inspect cargo at the port of entry, Ferreira said.

The pilot is part of CBP’s 21st Century Border Management Initiative, designed to more efficiently process the increasing volume of trade between the U.S. and Mexico.

Much about the project remains up in the air, said John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association.

“They’ve been talking about this program for quite some time, but it’s not at all clear to me just what the impact will be,” McClung said. “There’s a vetting process by company, and we don’t know how long that will take. Nor do we know how many points in Mexico will have inspectors, or what their authority will be — FDA? APHIS? CBP?”

That said, McClung is pleased that the U.S. and Mexican governments are making the effort.

“We support any federal effort to expedite the movement of produce across the border, and we recognize the governments are well aware of the congestion problem and are trying to do something about it.”

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