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Growing Mexican produce trade in Pharr has no ceiling in sight

Growth numbers for Mexican produce trade across the Pharr International Bridge are very impressive. But, Luis Bazan notes, “this is only the beginning. This is the real deal.”

Bazan is the bridge director of the Pharr bridge, which is owned by the city of Pharr, TX. The bridge marked its 25th anniversary in 2019. In terms of value and truckloads, it has been the country’s top crossing point for Mexican produce for the last three years. Annual produce volume at the bridge increased by six percent in the last year. Bazan added that the Pharr bridge receives about 68 percent of the produce shipped from Mexico to the United States.

Luis-Bazan-Pharr-BridgeLuis Bazan at the U.S. exit point of the Pharr International Bridge, leaving for Reynosa, Mexico. The bridge offices are currently being reconstructed at this site. Bazan noted that in the fall Pharr - for total trade - was named the third-largest-volume landport in Texas. Trading through the Texas landports of Laredo and El Paso is greater.

Bazan said that during the peak Mexican 2019 produce import season, which runs from January to April, between 18,000 and 19,000 trucks a day crossed the Pharr bridge. He expects that volume to approach 20,000 for the same months in 2020.

Since the 2010-11 season, the annual growth rate for Pharr produce crossings has been, at a minimum, four percent.

Trade across the Pharr International Bridge ultimately creates five million or six million jobs in the U.S, Bazan said. “This includes thousands of jobs locally.”

What is the ceiling for trade across the Pharr Bridge? “We don’t like ceilings,” Bazan rebutted.

He said engineering plans for the construction of a second span and other facility improvements for the Pharr International Bridge will begin in May or June 2020. “We’ve been talking about this for such a long time. It’s been in the planning phase for about five years now, through the Donations Acceptance Program.” DAP is part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

These plans call for two entry lanes for commercial traffic entries and for two commercial exit booths. Engineering work for the expansion was launched on the Mexican side of the river in October. “We hope to break ground on the Mexican side in two years,” Bazan said.

In late 2020, the Pharr bridge plans to ask for bids for building both dry and cold unit docks at the Texas port of entry.

Also, in construction plans is a regional agricultural laboratory and training center. This will be used to train USDA entomologists and Customs and Border Protection ag specialists.

The Pharr bridge is working with the Texas International Produce Association and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley to have agricultural internships for ag inspection specialists. The strategy is to build the program with local students who would have a special interest in staying to serve in the Rio Grande Valley.

USMCA

Bazan said the approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement “will make our job easier, because something will finally be set in stone.” He added that the original NAFTA treaty laid the foundation for the Pharr bridge, its surrounding infrastructure in warehousing and distribution centers, trade service facilities and industrial parks on both sides of the border.

Construction of cold storages and facilities for maquila trade were services made possible by NAFTA. Bazan, who casually calls the new treaty “NAFTA 2.0”, said the “bar has been set for the next 25 years. That’s for certain.”