(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 11)

NOGALES, Ariz. — The Arizona Department of Agriculture will not allow its inspectors to inspect loads in Mexico, threatening longer waits to cross the border and forcing importers to make arrangements on the U.S. side until the issue can be resolved.

UPDATED: Arizona suspends produce inspections in Mexico

Fred Wilkinson

Eloy Cortez of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (from left); Veronica Jannete Dimas Dimas, Mexican customs sub-administrator; and Guadalupe Ramirez, CBP port director at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz., update workshop attendees about upgrades to the port Nov. 4 during an educational symposium as part of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas 42nd Annual Meeting and Golf Tournament.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has subcontracted inspection and grading duties to the Arizona ag department for decades, said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

But citing safety concerns for inspectors, the state ag department announced Nov. 1 that inspections would have to be conducted on the U.S. side of the border.

FPAA was still negotiating with Arizona ag officials in mid-November and hoped for progress on resolving the issue soon, Jungmeyer said Nov. 11.

“We’re still talking to the state of Arizona and explaining the economic impact to the southern part of the state,” he said.

Winter produce imports are set to pick up through the Mariposa Port of Entry by December as the season opens up, putting importers in the position of having to line up warehouse space.

While there is warehouse space available on the U.S. side, much of it requires upgrades to bring it up to standards, particularly for temperature-sensitive commodities, Jungmeyer said.

Last season, Arizona ag inspectors examined a total of 31,000 lots, with about 20,000 of those being conducted in Nogales, Sonora, Jungmeyer said.

“We’re looking at 200% more inspections on this side than have ever been done,” he said.

Besides helping with the volume of inspections, inspecting loads in Mexico allows for weeding out product that doesn’t make grade before crossing the border, he added.