MCALLEN, Texas – Numerous chambers of commerce in the Rio Grande Valley and northern Tamaulipas want to see Presidents Biden and López Obrador meet in person to address current challenges.

Such a meeting would serve as a pathway to improve binational relations between the United States and Mexico, the chambers of commerce believe.

Following a recent zoom meeting, the chambers agreed to sign a resolution calling for a meeting of the two heads of state.

“Obviously, with a change in administration comes opportunities,” said Steve Ahlenius, president of McAllen Chamber of Commerce, referring to the newly installed Biden Administration. 

“At our recent virtual binational reunion meeting we wanted to really stress the importance of the relationship between Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley. We thought sending that resolution, encouraging a meeting, and wanting to see that happen… I think is in everyone’s best interests.”

Working with FECANACO Tamaulipas, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce led the way in getting the resolution passed.

“Obviously, when we are talking and having dialogue, problems can get solved and situations can be avoided. So, we just think it is critical the two presidents meet,” Ahlenius said. “Especially when we see now what is happening with the unaccompanied minors. There are some challenges occurring and we have got to have communications.”

A draft letter dated Feb. 23, 2021, states:

Mr. Joe Biden

President of the United States of America 

Lic. Andrés Manuel López Obrador 

Presidente de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos 

The chambers of commerce of Texas and Tamaulipas undersigned within this agreement, signed at the Binational Chamber of Commerce Reunion held on February 23, 2021, agree and urge the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador and President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, to increase their communication and collaborative relations and to schedule a working meeting towards finding agreement on issues of international relevance for both countries, such as the following: 

  1. A) COVID-19 Healthcare Criteria Related to Binational Travel
  2. B) Immigration Policies/ International Crossings Re-Opening
  3. C) Remittances from Mexicans Working in the U.S.
  4. D) Production of Energy Fuels and Criteria in Case of Supply Emergency.
  5. E) U.S/Mexico Customs Modernization 
  6. F) International Trade Promotion 
  7. G) USMCA Operation Evaluation 

A key issue that needs to be addressed, Ahlenius told the Rio Grande Guardian, is reopening of land ports of entry in South Texas to so-called non-essential travelers. 

“We want to see the international bridges back open for non-essential travel. It is impacting a lot of our small businesses. This is a small business region. And so I think that is something else that needs to be discussed and solutions found. And I think that is going to happen,” Ahlenius said.

“I am optimistic that over the next 30 to 60 days we are going to see some changes. I know Canada is talking about opening its bridges, probably in April. So, hopefully, that will be a catalyst for us to look at here. Obviously, the pandemic impacts countries differently. Mexico might be a little bit behind the United States in the vaccinations and whatever we can do to help make that happen so that Mexico can get vaccinated, I think it will be a critical role for the United States.”

Recently, President Biden said the U.S. would be sending millions of spare COVID-19 vaccines to the Canada and Mexico. Ahlenius said that is the right thing to do.

“Let’s think about our friends and neighbors. Both the Canadians and Mexico are critical partners, trade partners, the familial relationships that go back and forth. We have a lot of Canadians that come down here in the winter months and, yes, helping them should be our next step. We help ourselves, now let’s help our neighbors,” he said.

Border leaders on both sides of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo say their community sometimes feel powerless as decisions get taken in Washington, D.C. and/or Mexico City with little local input. Recently, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza, a Valley native, encouraged border communities to create their own narrative, while U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar implored the Biden Administration to consult with border leaders when setting migration policy.

Ahlenius believes working together gives the South Texas-Northern Tamaulipas region a louder voice.

“A lot of times we feel we are on the sidelines watching, applauding or booing, depending on what is happening. Our hope is that there is a positive relationship and that things can get fixed and also resolved,” he said. 

Ahlenius noted that Biden and López Obrador recently held a virtual meeting. He said the next meeting needs to be in-person.

“When you meet in person there is something in our DNA about meeting in person. You break bread with somebody, it changes the dynamics of the relationship. I understand the precautions with the Zoom meeting but an in-person meeting brings on a totally different dynamic.”

Asked if all the chambers of commerce in the Valley are signing on to the resolution, Ahlenius said.

“Absolutely. For our region it is a no-brainer. It is an easy ask. People see it and they understand it. People are willing to sign on and be a part of it.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows a file photo of Steve Ahlenius, president of McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

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