On December 18, 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was forced to suspend rail operations at key points into and out of Mexico, specifically El Paso and Eagle Pass, Texas, to alleviate a sharp increase in illegal immigration at the border. The CBP is working with the Mexican government and the Mexican rail system to remedy the situation as quickly as possible, but there is no timeline for the resumption of normal operations.
These actions affected U.S. agricultural groups. In a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the growers, representing corn, and soybean producers, among others, said the crossings could be easily reopened. “Our understanding is that it is possible for CBP to operate a rail crossing with as few as five employees, and we strongly urge you to allocate CBP staff to the international rail crossings to allow products to resume flowing.”
“For agriculture, nearly two-thirds of all U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico move via rail. It was our second largest export market in 2022 with $28.5 billion in sales, and this year exports to Mexico have been a bright spot in a relatively down year for overall U.S. agricultural exports. Unfortunately, the crossing closures are causing exports to be lost. Each day the crossings are closed we estimate almost 1 million bushels of grain exports are potentially lost along with export potential for many other agricultural products. Each additional day of closures results in rail carriers having to idle trains or reroute them in illogical ways to try and serve customers, all of which adds friction within the supply chain,” the letter said.
The U.S. Grains Council said in a statement that Mexico is the top U.S. trading partner for U.S. corn, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and barley, purchasing 16 million metric tons (MMT), 2 MMT and 317,000 metric tons, respectively, in the 2022-2023 marketing year.
“The suspensions in El Paso and Eagle Pass threaten to impact trade to our most important partner, so we are working hard in the country to help alleviate the issues as quickly as possible,” said Ryan LeGrand, U.S. Grains Council president and CEO. “The trading system in North America relies on interconnectedness, and any disruption affects both the U.S. and Mexican economies, not only with corn, DDGS, and barley, but it also affects processing, biofuels production, feeding livestock and more, so it is vital the situation is resolved in a timely manner for the betterment of producers, industry and consumers on either side of the border.”
On December 22, 2023, CBP resumed operations at the international railway crossing bridges in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas.