Renegotiating the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada should be economically good for Texas and the nation, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told about 400 El Paso business and community leaders at a luncheon Thursday.
“NAFTA is essential to our economic prosperity. If after 24 years it needs a tuneup, no one should be surprised,” Cornyn said.
Cornyn also pronounced the Trump administration’s proposed 20 percent border tax on imported goods dead in Congress, which drew applause from the luncheon crowd at the Wyndham El Paso Airport Hotel, 2027 Airport Blvd.
Cornyn also said he doesn’t foresee a wall being built along the entire 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border based, he said, on comments made by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin assured Cornyn that the Trump administration’s “guiding philosophy” for the NAFTA renegotiation “is first do no harm, and that was very encouraging,” Cornyn said.
The third-term senator, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate, answered questions posed by Jon Barela, CEO of the Borderplex Alliance, a regional economic development organization, which organized the luncheon. Cornyn also answered a handful of written questions from audience members.
He also was scheduled to take a tour of the El Paso-Juárez border with U.S. Border Patrol officials Thursday afternoon.
Cornyn said he doesn’t foresee a borderlong wall, as President Donald Trump has insisted will be built, but instead sees securing the border with a combination of technological surveillance, Border Patrol agents “and in places, where it makes sense, fencing — you can call it a wall if you want to.”
“We’re trying to provide a road map for the administration to accomplish what we all want to accomplish in border security in a way that makes sense and works,” he said.
NAFTA has been an economic boon for Texas and the nation, but the trade pact needs to be updated in several areas, including parts pertaining to the oil and gas industry, as well as e-commerce, Cornyn said.
Since NAFTA took effect in 1994, “Mexico has entered into a number of other trade agreements with Europe and elsewhere, and I would hope that we could get at least as favorable a treatment as these other nations have gotten in subsequent trade agreements,” Cornyn said during a short news conference after the luncheon.
Barela said modernizing NAFTA provides an opportunity to create thousands of new jobs in the border region, especially in the energy sector.
The biggest opportunity is to create a North American energy union using oil, natural gas and renewable energy sources, Barela said.
He also said, “We have to be diligent in how the border is potrayed” by Trump and others and show that border commerce is good for this area and for the entire country.
Cornyn said Trump’s comments against Mexico early in his administration might have rattled and confused Mexican leaders. But the Trump administration has taken steps to improve its relationship with Mexican leaders, he said.
“In Washington I found it’s more important to watch what people do and less important to listen to what they say,” Cornyn added.
Cornyn said his legislative priorities this year are to reform the nation’s tax code and to fix the Affordable Care Act, or so-called Obamacare, so health insurance rates go down, health care choices return to individuals and insurance regulation goes back to the states.
By: Vic Kolenc