LAREDO, Texas – Laredo Mayo Pete Saenz says border communities should be wary of the day when trucks carrying cargo through ports of entry are pre-cleared and post-cleared a hundred miles from an international bridge.

Saenz said that with new technology it is possible to inspect a truck a long way from the border, have the cargo sealed, and the vehicle cross an international bridge without stopping. 

If that happens, all the infrastructure traditionally associated with a port of entry, including warehousing, could be set up a hundred miles from the border. 

“We need to be cautious in a way of this pre-clearing and post-clearing. I am concerned that, years from now, who knows, that maybe the border will not be that significant. Because of trucks bypassing us, someway, somehow,” Saenz said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian.

“That is is something I have been thinking about. Not that it would happen overnight. I do not want to inject any panic. But, we are all seeking efficiencies and ways to stay competitive. Especially with these trusted carrier programs. Maybe, the border may not be that significant.”

Pathways For Trade: The North American Logistics & Manufacturing Symposium is being held at Texas A&M International University. The theme of the symposium is: Supply Chains in the New Global Reality.

Saenz gave his interview after officially opening the 25th Annual Pathways For Trade: The North American Logistics & Manufacturing Symposium held at Texas A&M International University.

“We need to watch. With technology, CBP may end up in another city further north or south and the trucks could come straight through. That its something for the border mayors to be thinking about,” Saenz said.

The Border Mayors Association holds its 2018 U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Summit at the San Antonio Convention Center on Friday. Saenz said he will be speaking on a panel at the summit.

“I do not want make a big issue of this but it is something to be watchful for,” Saenz said, referring to the pre-clearance and post-clearance of trucks a hundred miles from the border.

“We need more discussion. I do not have all the facts yet. It is one theory that gives me pause for thought. I do not see it happening in the immediate future but maybe 15, 20 years from now.”

Saenz also chairs the Texas Border Coalition, a group comprising municipalities from El Paso to Brownsville. TBC is hosting its annual meeting at the offices of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

The big topic at the two-day Pathways to Trade symposium, which concludes Thursday, is the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Asked about this, Saenz said: “I am delighted we (the United States) do have an arrangement with Mexico. That is going to help us on the border. We are still very hopeful that Canada will step in. NAFTA 2.0 is very much at the forefront.”

If there is not a NAFTA 2.0, Saenz still sees border communities benefiting from trade.

“We have experienced all sorts of volumes of trade for the past two years, despite the uncertainty (over NAFTA). That brings us challenges, as border towns, the need for more infrastructure and working closer with Washington and Austin.” 

Saenz said a lot of credit needs to go to Mexico.

“We are very appreciative of the work our counterparts are doing in Mexico. Sometimes we forget about them. I don’t but other people do. They are very much part of our formula. We are successful because Mexico is with us. They do their part and we do our part. That is what makes use one of the most successful border ports.”

Saenz pointed out, proudly, that Laredo is the largest inland port of entry in the United States.

“We all live through this international trade. It sustains us. For us it is huge. It is the primary engine that we have, it easily provides for 40 or 50 percent of our (Laredo’s) economic activity,” Saenz said.

“We have been growing four or five percent a year. Since last July, I was told recently we have grown 50,000 trucks. We used to say we had 16,000 trucks per day. Now it is closer to 20,000 trucks per day, at both ports, the World Trade Bridge and the Colombia port. It is good but it does present challenges, which is why we need our infrastructure to be more efficient.”

Asked if he was proud that truck traffic at Laredo’s international ports have continued to increase, even with uncertainty over U.S.-Mexico trading relations, Saenz said:

“It speaks volumes for the world economy. The trade is coming through this port. When we say we are growing, by this we mean new business. This is not taking away from any other ports. My understanding is all the other ports are growing as well. So, this is an indication of how massive this commerce and trade is for us and for Mexico, especially for the the border area.”

Saenz said Laredo’s importance to trade in North America is evidenced by a visit from a delegation from the Republic of China. 

“They want to know more about Laredo. We visited with them, they toured our port. This is not the first time they have been with us. It has sparked an interest, this tariff war, they are obviously seeking solutions, to find out what is in their best interests. Possibly, our border could be part of the solution.”

Asked for a wrap-up remark, before he heads to San Antonio and chairs the TBC meeting, Saenz said: “We need to stay hopeful, stay true to who we are and what resources we can provide. This is what makes my job interesting and challenging. We welcome whomever wants to do business in the border area. We are open for business.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz at the 25th Annual Pathways For Trade: The North American Logistics & Manufacturing Symposium held at Texas A&M International University.