Pharr Works with Legislators to Continue Funding the Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program

The City of Pharr has once again successfully led the efforts for the passage of House Bill 1371/Senate Bill 1566 in the Texas Legislature, a bill that provides continued congestion relief at ports of entry along the South Texas-Mexico border by extending the Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program, better known as the South Texas Assets Consortium (STAC) Program, through 2025. The bill has now been sent to Texas Governor Greg Abbott for signature. Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. and Representative Bobby Guerra both worked with the City of Pharr and the South Texas Legislative Delegation to get the bill passed through their respective chambers.

The City of Pharr and the Pharr International Bridge have worked closely with the Texas Legislature for the last three legislative sessions to advocate for the continuation of the STAC Program. Historically, this grant program was originally signed into law during the 84th Legislative Session, with Representative Guerra and Senator Lucio as the original co-sponsors. The program has helped to alleviate long wait times along the Texas-Mexico border port of entries.

“The Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program is vital to keeping our ports of entry moving, ensuring that our produce is free of invasive pests and helps solidify our trading capacity by efficiently and expediently continuing the flow of products through our bridge,” said Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, M.D.

As the only full-service commercial port of entry in the area, the Pharr International Bridge continues to be an economic engine for the region, as one of the busiest ports of entry in the state and nation. Currently, the bridge ranks third in the nation for trade with Mexico, the seventh-largest, fastest-growing land port of entry nationally, the number one crosser of produce, and the top exporter of automotive, technology, and petroleum gas. The Pharr Bridge now crosses 65% of the nation’s produce imported from Mexico and has reported over $36 billion in annual trade.

Agricultural inspections are critical to guarding both the agriculture industry and Texas consumers. The coupling of population increase and an upsurge in demand for fresh and healthy produce has put a burden on the agricultural inspection procedures at the South Texas-Mexico ports of entry. The shortage of agriculture inspectors at the Texas-Mexico border causes congestion—significant due to the slowdown of commerce and the delayed inspection of perishable produce. The existing Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program—administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture—reduces wait times for agricultural inspections at ports of entry along the Texas border.

When fresh produce crosses the US border, it must be inspected for compliance to US growing regulations, potential foreign pests, and diseases that could devastate domestic agriculture, as well as for compliance with trade legislation. These duties fall to the US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Agriculture Specialists.

The industry has seen a tremendous impact, almost immediately. As soon as the grant program was enacted, the number of fresh produce trucks that had to wait overnight for inspections dropped dramatically.

“With STAC in place, the risk is eliminated for trucks to be halted and left at the inspection docks overnight only to be processed the following morning,” said Cindy Garza-Reyes, Director of External Affairs for the City of Pharr and the Pharr International Bridge. “What is key about this project is that not only are local community stakeholders invested in this program but communities and private business outside of our region are also invested in eliminating any disruption within the supply chain process,” she added. “This project will help alleviate wait times and increase our economic trade capacity,” Garza continued.

“I am proud to have garnered wide support on a bipartisan basis in the Senate to pass legislation important to the State of Texas, especially to the Rio Grande Valley,” said Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. “The Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program is important to our border communities, Texas farmers, and for consumers at grocery stores like H-E-B,” added Lucio.

The continued implementation of the program will allow our Texas ports of entry to build the personnel and the efficiencies needed to protect our Texas farmers, encourage the growth of the Texas fruit and vegetable industry, and help our Texas economy grow by creating a partnership where local communities alongside the state government can fund necessary personnel resources needed for the successful flow of trade.

“The Agricultural Inspection Grant is integral to successful trade at our southern border,” said Representative Bobby Guerra. “Previous success of this program illustrates that it is an inexpensive and effective tool that keeps our grocery stores stocked with fresh produce while stimulating economic growth and job creation in Texas,” he added.

“On behalf of the City of Pharr we commend Senator Lucio and Representative Guerra for their dedicated efforts in working to expediently get this vital legislation approved through their respective chambers,” said Mayor Hernandez. “As our elected official representing Pharr, Senator Lucio has always understood the significance of the Pharr International Bridge,” said Hernandez.

“He continues to be one of the most powerful advocates in Austin for South Texas,” Hernandez added. “The South Texas Legislative Delegation has been instrumental in keeping vital funding for this program to continue the economic prosperity and vitality of our region and our state,” stated Hernandez.