NOGALES, Ariz. — The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program is proving in many cases to be an effective way for Nogales shippers to move their product through the border crossing in a timely manner while ensuring a load’s safety.


The program is not perfect, however, and has caused headaches for some of the town’s biggest shippers.


Under the program, growers, truckers and distributors all must meet strict security requirements.


Once approved, a company’s trucks can use a special lane when they reach the border inspection checkpoint and speed through the border-crossing process.


It’s important for everyone involved to abide by the rules, though. If the grower, trucker or distributor commits an infraction, they all lose the right to participate in the program.


Program requirements are strict, said Allison Moore, communications director for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.


For example, food storage areas in participating distributors’ warehouses in Nogales are fenced in, and visitors must sign in and wear identification badges.


Implementing components of the C-TPAT initiative has made Ciruli Bros. LLC a better company, said Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer. But there has been a downside for some of the town’s top distributors.


With drug smuggling on the rise south of the border, drug traffickers quickly discovered that slipping their illegal cargo onto a C-TPAT-certified truck, with its relatively low likelihood of being subjected to a detailed inspection, increased the chances of the drug stash making it across the border undetected.


Ciruli Bros. never had a problem with illegal drugs on the trucks the company used until the firm became C-TPAT certified, Ciruli said. That made the trucks more attractive to drug smugglers. If a truck is found to be transporting drugs, the company is out of the program.


“We were C-TPAT certified,” Ciruli said. “We’ve lost it.”


The company and FPAA have been trying to get the government “to give us some leeway on how that works,” Ciruli said.


The program works well for manufacturing companies that don’t have production surges, he said, “but it definitely produces some heavy challenges for produce.”


Moore said some progress has been made.


When the program was launched, once a drug infraction was detected, a company was out of the program forever, she said. Now there are ways to put a company on probation instead.


“It’s more of a true partnership,” she said.


When a drug infraction occurs, companies are encouraged to find out where the breakdown happened and figure out ways to prevent it from happening again.


Signing up for C-TPAT in the first place is not a simple process.


One shipper who will begin the program this season said it can take up to a year for all the paperwork to be approved and for all the checks and facility inspections to be completed.