With the clock running down before formal talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement begin, border business owners and local political leaders need to wage a national fight to preserve NAFTA trade benefits, U.S. lawmakers from Texas said Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, whose congressional district stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and covers more Texas-Mexico border than any other U.S. representative, said his congressional colleagues were shocked to see bustling NAFTA trade first-hand during a trip to Ciudad Juarez, directly across the border from El Paso.
“There’s so many people in the interior of the country that talk about trade, that talk about border security, but they’ve never been there,” Hurd, R-Helotes, said at a panel discussion sponsored by the Border Trade Advisory Committee at Alamo Colleges in San Antonio. “So we have to bring people down there, we have to articulate this Texas solution to folks up in Washington, D.C., and friends in other states as well.”
San Antonio and cities along the border have thrived thanks to cross-border trade that in the last decade has doubled in volume. Some 75 percent of the $600 billion in annual U.S.-Mexico trade comes through Texas, with more than 10,000 trucks crossing from Mexico to Texas each day.
The Trump administration formally notified Congress May 18 that it intends to reopen the 23-year-old free trade pact between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. The notification launches a 90-day consultation period that is required before those talks can officially begin. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who signed the letter, said negotiations could start no earlier than Aug. 16.
While Trump has slammed NAFTA as a bad deal for Americans that encouraged companies to ship manufacturing jobs for America, he’s since signaled that he’s seeking a “modernization” of an agreement written long before digital commerce became the norm and Mexico opened its energy sector to foreign investment.
Since fast-track Trade Promotion Authority secured during the Obama administration remains in effect, whatever is negotiated will go to an up-or-down vote on Congress.
“Getting things done in Washington is all about the math,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said at panel discussion. The Border Trade Advisory Committee is a group of mayors, business owners and others that advises the Texas Department of Transportation on infrastructure issues that affect trade along the border. “The 5 million jobs in the United States that benefit from cross-border trade with Mexico are created in all 50 states,” Cornyn said.
Help us to show the evidence of what the benefits are in those states. That helps us to do the math to get to fifty percent plus one in the House and 51 votes in the Senate. It’s just that simple.”
Hurd said the Commerce Department should by midsummer have prioritized what areas it’s looking to renegotiate. He said he thought energy and digital trade should top the list.
“The need for energy in Mexico is huge and we can help,” he said. “When NAFTA was signed here in San Antonio the commercial use of the internet was not what it is. And in this trade agreement we can make the relationship between the U.S., Mexico and Canada on where you store data the example for the rest of the world.”
By: Lynn Brezosky
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