Jan 19, 2016 - 4:15pm

Move to Reduce Border Wait Times Is Step Forward for Trade


Chief economist for Catalyst Partners, LLC

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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer directs trucks entering the United States from Mexico. Photo credit: David Maung/Bloomberg

For decades, people have complained about the long wait times that commercial and passenger vehicles have endured at our ports of entry – and for good reason.

These delays are unacceptable, and the unpredictable variation in wait times on an hour-to-hour basis can be costly and cause planning difficulties for businesses.

So it was great news to learn that U.S. border agents have begun inspecting U.S.-bound trucks in Mexico. This is part of a new enforcement program intended to reduce congestion and speed cargo across one of the nation’s busiest border crossings.

The delays are a problem that needed immediate attention. Just last Thursday, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported trucks were experiencing a 40-minute delay at El Paso’s Bridge of the Americas, a 50-minute delay at Nogales, Mariposa, and a 55-minute delay at Hidalgo, Pharr. Long delays at other ports of entry also were reported.  

It was interesting to read the comment of Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, whose members depend heavily on clients from Mexico. He stated, “We can stand recession, devaluation, but when wait times go up, we get killed.”

There have been many criticisms (including mine) of the old inspection policy. From an economics perspective, the time waiting in line is a wasted resource. It is wasted because there is no return on investment from legitimate truck drivers waiting to enter the United States. The truck operating costs that are being wasted consist of driver wages, fuel consumption, vehicle maintenance, and depreciation. Other costs include customs broker fees, drayage costs (the associated cost of loading and unloading), and the opportunity costs of time.

A shorter wait time now allows cross-border supply chains to invest in less inventory and theft prevention (e.g., making sure that items are not affixed to the truck while it is waiting). Long waits lead to costs that are passed on to the consumer in the form of fewer and more expensive options. Purchasing is thus limited to the smaller population of those who can afford it. Studies have reported that the economic cost of waiting in line is in the billions of dollars.

While more still needs to be done, kudos go to CBP on this change.

About the Author

About the Author

Chief economist for Catalyst Partners, LLC

Becker is the chief economist for Catalyst Partners, LLC. In this role, Becker offers economic analyses to clients on matters relating to homeland security, including the cost impact of proposed and final rule-makings. He offers advice on how to save money while achieving desired security benefits.