SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, RGV – The best way to fight anti-Mexican and anti-U.S.-Mexico trade rhetoric is to respond with facts, says LeRoy Cavazos-Reyna, vice president of governmental affairs for the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
At a recent Texas Border Coalition quarterly meeting, Cavazos-Reyna made a presentation about a new binational effort to strengthen border ties. It is known by its hashtag – #OneBorder.
“We have to get away from the divisive rhetoric where we continue to put our neighbors to the south in a position where they don’t want to cross the border, that don’t want to spend their money here, they do not want to do business here and our tourism goes down,” Cavazos-Reyna said.
The TBC meeting was held at the Holiday Inn & Suites South Padre Island. In his remarks to the group, Cavazos-Reyna said pushing back against divisive rhetoric was crucial. “Any time you shift the argument to numbers, it is much more powerful,” he said. Cavazos-Reyna also said: “Having Mexico involved in that message is very important.”
Cavazos-Reyna said there are a lot of compelling statistics about the North American Free Trade Agreement for the TBA and other border communities to cite. He listed some in a San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce handout:
• Nearly five million jobs in the U.S. depend on Mexico and Canada as active trading partners;
• Texas exports an estimated $56.9 billion in products, goods, and services to Mexico on an annual basis;
• Mexican foreign direct investment was estimated at $17 billion in 2015;
• Mexico is the third largest destination for U.S. agriculture products and is the second largest source of these types of imports;
• The U.S. is Mexico’s number one source for foreign direct investment (FDI), accounting for an estimated 46 percent of U.S. foreign direct investment;
• There are approximately 6,500 Mexican-owned companies conducting business in the U.S. who supply an estimated 120,000 jobs and invest $52 billion into the U.S. economy;
• In 2015, U.S. exports to Mexico exceeded $231 billion, which represents approximately 16 percent of U.S. sales worldwide;
• U.S. imports from Mexico reached an estimated $294 billion in 2015, giving Mexico an estimated 13 percent of all U.S. total imports;
• Mexico is the United States’ largest energy supplier, providing an estimated $54 billion in good and commodities.
LeRoy Cavazos-Reyna & San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
LeRoy Cavazos-Reyna is a Rio Grande Valley native, having attended Mission High School and earning a Master’s in public administration from UT-Pan American. He was a legislative assistant to J.D. Salinas when he was Hidalgo County Judge. He said he was proud to work for the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce because of its deep roots in South Texas – it was formed by Mexican entrepreneurs in 1929.
“We have 1,400 members, a thriving budget and an international presence in Mexico,” Cavazos-Reyna said. “And, we are the only Hispanic Chamber accredited by U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The five pillars of work we do are: leadership development, international trade, small business, economic development, and education.”
Cavazos-Reyna said the #OneBorder hashtag was created two years ago by various organizations working binationally on both sides of the border. He said they came together to create a joint message on what border communities need and how to strengthen ties across the border. The ad hoc group meets quarterly, with the next one scheduled for October at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.
“We need to get more people involved in #OneBorder,” Cavazos-Reyna said, noting that the group has many members from New Mexico, Arizona, a large presence from California, a large presence from Baja California and the interior of Mexico, Tamaulipas, Ciudad Juarez and El Paso. “But, we need more people in Texas because, inadvertently, Texas is the one that is most affected by what is going on, on the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Cavazos-Reyna said the #OneBorder group believes in a strong binational relationship between Mexico and the United States. “We believe we must have joint prosperity,” he said, also stressing the need for security. “There is this big dialogue about security and walls and technology and all kinds of stuff. How do we shape that dialogue to better serve our constituencies? I think there is a lot of people in this state who know we do not want or have the money to build a border wall. Are there other avenues we can use such as technology and more enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border to do the work of the people and keep our border safe? Coming up with that joining message, making sure that Mexico is involved in that message is very important.”
Cavazos-Reyna said #OneBorder’s message is that “we are one region, we are one community, we are one border. He said groups like the Texas Border Coalition and think tanks like the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center have embraced that message and are helping to spread the word. “There are no resources, no one is asking anyone for money, I am not asking you to buy a table at a gala, I am just asking people from the Rio Grande Valley to become engaged and be at the table. That is the only way we are going to be able to change the outcomes of what lies ahead in the next three and a half years, by being at the table. Some people choose not to be at the table. We must be at the table, that is the key,” Cavazos-Reyna told the audience at the Texas Border Coalition event.
Cavazos-Reyna urged stakeholders in the Rio Grande Valley to utilize the resources of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He ran through four key issues the Hispanic Chamber is tracking right now: expanding the work of the North American Development Bank, reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank, making sure the Border Adjustment Tax is not implemented, and renegotiating NAFTA.
With regard to NADBank, Cavazos-Reyna said that with the importance of Mexico as a trading partner, the Hispanic Chamber would like to see NADBank participate in the development and financing of natural gas pipelines, power plants in Mexico for North American energy security, and trade facilitation projects at the U.S.-Mexico international land crossings. Cavazos-Reyna said the hope is that the Trump Administration includes NADBank’s first capital increase in its history in the NAFTA renegotiation talks.
With regard to the Export-Import Bank, the Hispanic Chamber wrote in its handout that it is critical to leveling the playing field in a competitive global economy where many foreign export credit agencies offer generous terms to U.S. competitors. The Hispanic Chamber wrote that in 2015, the Ex-Im Bank supported $37 billion in exports that in turn sustained more than 200,000 American jobs at 3,400 companies. The Hispanic Chamber believes the institution is especially important to small- and medium-sized businesses because they account for nearly 90 percent of its transactions. “We need it reauthorized. It is lacking some board members. Be supportive, try to be involved in their efforts,” Cavazos-Reyna said.
With regard to the Border Adjustment Tax, Cavazos-Reyna said such a tax would have a “devastating impact” on the Rio Grande Valley and the border region as a whole. A BAT would be imposed on imported goods that Americans use on a daily basis, such as clothing, food, medicine and gasoline. “The BAT is a trillion-dollar tax break for a select few corporations and an unexpected new increase of $1,700 on an ordinary American household,” the Hispanic Chamber wrote, in its handout. “We are not in favor of any Border Adjustment Tax. There is talk that it will become a stand-alone congressional proposal, there is also talk that it might be worked into NAFTA. We don’t know yet,” Cavazos-Reyna said.
With regard to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Cavazos-Reyna said every household saves $10,000 a year “based on what NAFTA has created. He said the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office has received 5,000 submissions during the public comment period. Here are the Hispanic Chamber’s recommendations for a successful renegotiation:
1. Create a border that leverages technology, innovation, and is inclusive of circularity to adequately address and maximize issues of security, reliability in the transfer of goods and services, address workforce development issues, and create common sense immigration policies to manage the movement of people;
2. Encourage public/private partnerships that drive investment at home and from foreign interests;
3. Examine and expand a capital increase for the North American Development Bank to fulfil its mission of improving environmental infrastructure and the quality of life on both sides of the border;
4. Ensure permanent reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States after a thorough examination of its charter to ensure the U.S. manufacturing and exporting competitiveness continue to improve;
5. Ensure that critical transportation and infrastructure assets are built and revitalized along roads, rail, air, and maritime;
6. Examine the current state of offshoring high value STEM jobs and the impact on the North American workforce development pool to ensure that these competitive workforce opportunities continue to expand in the U.S. and that their economic impact remain on our homeland;
7. Evaluate and consider modern electronic document processes that include advanced email services and cybersecurity measures to embrace those companies or individuals attempting to trade, invest, and conduct business across our borders;
8. Expand “start-up visa” programs that allow job creating foreign entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses in the U.S., and especially support programs that allow the “best and brightest” entrepreneurs to remain permanently if their companies expand, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy;
9. Examine the National Export Initiative to identify potential future technical assistance and federal funding in support of implementing export and trade initiatives, including regulatory cooperation in order to improve supply chains and streamline regional integration in diverse business sectors such as energy;
10. Leverage businesses, consumers, academia, and the general public to engage and counteract protectionist voices with an educational campaign with regard to NAFTA benefits.
International Ports of Entry
Cavazos-Reyna said the Hispanic Chamber also supports improved infrastructure at land ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border. “We need to continue to advocate strongly for infrastructure on our borders, to make sure that our ports of entry are safe, make sure they have adequate infrastructure, to continue the flow between our borders. We feel a lot of people take it for granted, but thousands cross every day.”
Cavazos-Reyna concluded his remarks by warning there could be “devastation (for the border) if the ship went in a different direction.” He urged those in the audience to always include Mexico and to always promote a positive message about international trade and the border region.
“Let’s contribute to an historic renegotiation of a trade agreement that has really helped this country maintain our economic vibrancy, especially here in Texas. There are three key ingredients for a new agreement: migration of goods, services and investment, economic integration, making sure there are supply chains, energy and talent, workers development.”
Cavazos-Reyna said a new trade group, called the Texas-Mexico Trade Coalition, has been started and deserves support. He said its treasurer is Eddie Aldrete of IBC Bank. And he thanked Texas Secretary of State Rolando B. Pablos for making sure Texas Gov. Greg Abbott submitted testimony to the International Trade Office about the importance of NAFTA.
“It is critical that our municipalities, our counties and the state are all involved in this dialogue, we cannot be standing at the table alone. We need to be standing at the table in unison. We need to be more vocal, more out there, especially communities on the border. This is not going to happen by itself. We cannot neutralize Mexico, they just as important as the rest of us,” Cavazos-Reyna added.