A coalition of more than 150 agricultural, trade and related groups is urging congressional appropriators to close an estimated $630 million funding shortfall for the Customs & Border Protection’s (CPB) Agriculture Quarantine Inspection (AQI) at U.S. ports of entry.
CPB agriculture specialists, technicians and canine teams inspect agricultural imports to prevent the entry of foreign plant and animal pests and diseases such as foot and mouth disease and African swine fever. The inspections ordinarily are funded by AQI user fees that are collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), but those user fees have dropped dramatically as international travel and cargo imports have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
International air travel alone has fallen by nearly 98%. Maritime shipping is down nationally by double-digit percentages year over year, with drops in volume varying from seaport to seaport. In addition, virtually all seaport passenger travel has halted, with the 2020 tourism season virtually eliminated.
This unprecedented decline has resulted in such dramatically reduced AQI user fee collections that even the APHIS user fee reserve fund will be depleted by the end of fiscal 2020. With user fee collections not expected to rebound for the foreseeable future, the shortfall in funding for AQI at the ports of entry through the end fiscal 2021 is estimated to be $630 million.
“We urge Congress to ensure that the essential work of CBP agriculture inspectors continues uninterrupted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” the coalition’s letter said. “We depend on AQI to ensure that America’s agriculture sector remains safe from foreign animal and plant pests and diseases. It is inconceivable that Congress would risk widespread damage to U.S. agriculture and the overall economy by not funding these inspections.”
"CBP and USDA agriculture inspectors are our first line of defense to ensure African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases remain outside the United States," said National Pork Producers Council president Howard "AV" Roth, a hog farmer from Wauzeka, Wis. "Lapsed vigilance of these inspections would have devastating consequences for U.S. pork producers and all of agriculture -- the backbone of the American economy. It is vital that Congress address this significant funding shortfall, allowing U.S. pork producers to maintain a healthy U.S. swine herd."
“The pandemic has already had a devastating impact on our nation’s citizens and on our economy,” National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. executive director-government affairs Allison Rivera said. “We need to continue to fund our CBP ag inspectors and give them the resources they need so that they may continue to be vigilant at our ports of entry in order to keep out foreign animal diseases and pests.”