WASHINGTON, D.C. – The flow of asylum seekers from Central America, port of entry infrastructure and USMCA were among the topics discussed when U.S. Sen. John Cornyn kicked off at the 6th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border Conference.

The conference was hosted by the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute in Washington, D.C. Cornyn is a frequent speaker at the Mexico Institute.

On the subject of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, Cornyn said that along with dealing with the nation’s broken asylum system, ratifying the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement is one of his top legislative priorities. 

Here are the senator’s remarks from the event, as they relate to USMCA:

Obviously, Mexico has taken the first step, which is very encouraging, and I know all of you have followed this very, very, closely. There is no question in my mind that NAFTA has been a net benefit to the United States and particularly to Texas. I know those are controversial words in some circles but I believe it is true and I believe you can demonstrate it in dollars and cents. 

When I first learned the administration was eyeing NAFTA for some changes I talked to Ambassador Lighthizer and encouraged him to fix it, not nix it. You remember there was some talk of terminating NAFTA and then there were questions from lawyers as to whether the president actually had the authority to do that. I came down on the side that he did not; that Congress passed enabling laws that could not be unilaterally withdrawn by the president. But, I am glad that we did not have to confront the issue. I think that would have contributed more chaos and more uncertainty when we need to have less chaos and more certainty.

But, obviously, NAFTA could stand a little update and the truth is the energy sector and particularly the digital economy were things that weren’t as influential in our shared economy, back when NAFTA first passed, as they are today. 

So, after a long year of negotiations by our governments, I was glad that this rebranded agreement was signed by the head of all three countries in November. A couple of months ago the International Trade Commission publicly released its analysis of the economic impact of the agreement and showed its positive impacts. The ITC concluded that within six years of going into effect the USMCA will raise U.S. gross domestic product by $68 billion and lead to the creation of 176,000 new jobs. 

We can also expect that a $33 billion increase in our exports and about $31 billion in increased imports. That is great news for America’s workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses that will reap the benefits of this agreement and I am eager to get moving on the next step in the process, which is congressional consideration.

Congress recently received something called the Statement of Administrative Action from the Trump administration, that was three weeks ago, which in government speak is that the implementing legislation should be coming soon. So, we are anxiously waiting the next step, which is the enabling legislation to come over to us. But, as you know, once it does come to Congress, under trade promotion authority, the Congress cannot amend it. So, it will not be the usual legislative process where people are going to be offering amendments and voting those up or down. It is an up or down vote on the entire agreement. And so it is really important that any negotiations in terms of side agreements and other understandings take place before the enabling legislation comes. 

I am encouraged by Speaker Pelosi being receptive to passing the USMCA. I know she wants to make sure the House does its due diligence and it is my understanding she has appointed a team of legislators who will primarily speak for the House in terms of those negotiations. I am anxious for that to take place soon.

The House will vote first, given the bill’s revenue implications, and then it will come to the Senate. We will consider it in the Senate Finance Committee, on which I sit, and then the full Senate will vote. 

In terms of when you can expect this to happen, it is in the hands of the administration. We could get the implementing bill as early as July 30, which would start a 90-day shot clock or it could come thereafter. My personal preference and I would encourage you to encourage the Administration and the House to not let this linger any longer than necessary. The farther this gets into the election cycle and the more this becomes politicized by the presidential campaign and other campaigns, I think that would be to the detriment of considering the USMCA and getting it passed.

On Tuesday morning, Ambassador Lighthizer testified in front of the finance committee. I asked him the very question, when does the Administration plan to submit the implementing bill to Congress. Well, he was studiously vague. He noted his interest in sending the implementing bill and noted the negotiations with House Democrats had advanced the agreement. But, he didn’t give me a time. I don’t blame him but I wanted to ask the question anyway to encourage him and encourage people watching to get the job done. Because, historically, the closer we get to an election, the more challenging it is to get anything passed, particularly in a divided Congress. So, I hope we can get this moving along soon.

Editor’s Note: Click here to watch Senator Cornyn’s full speech at the 6th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border conference.