April 4, 2019 / 4:31 PM / 15 days ago

Mexican auto firms eye air cargo to jump huge U.S. border lines

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican exporters are looking into sending their goods to the United States by air freight to avoid a five-mile-long line of trucks at the border caused by the Trump administration moving federal agents away from customs checks to immigration duties.

FILE PHOTO: Trucks wait in a long queue at border customs control to cross into the U.S., at the Otay border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/File Photo

Autoparts and medical equipment makers were among the companies considering the more expensive air cargo to avoid incurring penalties for late delivery to U.S. clients, or factory closures, Luis Aguirre, the president of Mexico’s manufacturing industry chamber INDEX, said late on Wednesday.

At least one autopart plant has already had to close a production line in Ciudad Juarez because of the export delays, despite some traffic shifting to smaller, nearby ports of entry, Aguirre said. He did not say which company had been affected.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this, in all the time I have worked here,” said truck driver Juan Sandoval, who joined the line before dawn on Thursday, the fourth day of huge truck lines at the border.

Sandoval said the Ciudad Juarez alarm manufacturer he works for had cut deliveries by half to four trucks a day because of the border delays.

Authorities in Ciudad Juarez have installed brightly colored pink and blue portable washrooms along the line, and were handing out drinking water to truckers, some of whom slept in their cabs overnight.

Washington’s decision to move some 750 border agents from commercial to immigration duties to handle a surge in families seeking asylum between border crossings has triggered long delays for cross-border traffic at Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Otay Mesa, some of the busiest ports on the border.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump reiterated a threat to close the border, or parts of it, saying Congress could avert such a shutdown by changing laws to fix what he called immigration “loopholes.”

Business leaders on both sides of the border say a shutdown would hurt supply chains and $1.7 billion in daily trade at some of the world’s busiest land crossings.

“Trump is seeking re-election, and clearly the threats about the increase in immigrants is political,” said Aguirre, adding that Mexican companies would argue at a major U.S.-Mexico forum next week that immigration and trade should be treated separately.

Additional reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso and Sharay Angulo in Mexico City; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Alistair Bell

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