MCALLEN, RGV – Two top lawmakers from South Texas have criticized Republican statewide leaders for using back against President Trump’s stance on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
At a news conference, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo said anti-Mexican rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C., along with President Trump’s hostility towards NAFTA was hurting the border region’s economy.
Hinojosa even listed some McAllen stores that he said are closing because the number of customers from Mexico has dropped alarmingly.
“The rhetoric and the anti-NAFTA message from the White House is already impacting us in the Valley,” Hinojosa said.
“Joe Brand, a leading clothing store in South Texas, they have closed their doors. The Man’s Shop has closed their doors. The Mall is supposed to be 100 percent full right now. They have slowed down the number of businesses that are open. They have only opened 50 percent of the businesses they committed to.”
Hinojosa warned the collapse of NAFTA would be disastrous for Texas.
“For us here in Texas, if NAFTA goes away, it is going to cost the state thousands of jobs, billions of dollars. So, we are in the crossfire,” Hinojosa said.
“My disappointment is that many of the leaders here in Texas, Republicans, are not speaking out against the President and what he is trying to do in terms of trying to completely do away with NAFTA.”
“You are absolutely right,” Cuellar said to Hinojosa. “The only Republican statewide that has been very vocal is John Cornyn. With all due respect to the Governor, I wish the Governor would do more. I wish the other statewide officials would do more because it is having an impact on our Texas economy.”
Hinojosa and Cuellar made their comments at a news conference held at Palenque Grill in north McAllen. Cuellar hosted the event to discuss immigration reform and legislation to ensure undocumented students that have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order get to stay in the United States.
A reporter referenced comments made last month by Robert Kaplan, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. On a visit to the Valley, Kaplan had spoken of his fear that anti-Mexican sentiment in the U.S. would negatively impact this year’s Mexican presidential election.
“I would not want to see a situation where in order to get elected president of Mexico, you need to be anti-America, anti-American,” Kaplan told Rio Grande Valley business leaders, at a Dallas Fed/UT-Rio Grande Valley event held at the Embassy Suites in McAllen.
Asked about this, Cuellar said he had encouraged Kaplan to visit the Valley.
“I think some people (in the White House) are stone deaf. That rhetoric affects our economy. Ask your restaurants, your hotels and other places. There are not as many Mexicans as used to come in and probably for a couple of reasons, from what I have heard. One is, they are saying, ‘hey, I’m afraid.’ Number two is, some of them are saying, ‘why am I going to spend money over there if they don’t like me. Why am I going to spend money?’ So, there has been a reduction on that. No ifs or buts.”
On trade, Cuellar said, entrepreneurs on the U.S. side of the border are hesitating about investing in equipment. He said they are saying, “I do not know what is going to happen with NAFTA.”
The uncertainty over NAFTA is also hurting investment in Mexico, Cuellar said.
“But on the political part of it, the White House is stone deaf to what they are doing. If they push the rhetoric and they get a certain person elected… and again, it is not my business who gets elected over there but I would like to have someone that can have a good working relationship with the U.S. (If not) then you have two fiery type of presidents, if one person gets elected and the ones that will be right in the crossfire is us, here at the border.”
Cuellar did not mention who that fiery president of Mexico could be. However, some reporters assumed he was talking about leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who leads the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party. Mexicans go to the polls on July 1, 2018. Some opinion polls have Lopez Obrador ahead.
Cuellar said that while Mexican officials will publicly say they are not overly concerned about the renegotiation of NAFTA, privately it is very different.
“You talk to them behind the scenes, they are concerned. When you talk to the members of Parliament from Canada, they are concerned. When you talk to the U.S. Chamber, when you talk to Ag groups that have been coming to our office, they are saying, hey, we thought for a while that the rhetoric (would subside) and then it (NAFTA) would be worked out. But here we are in January… and remember, this should have been done back in December or November, and here we are, starting to get concerned what is going to happen.”
Cuellar said he does not put much stock in reports that Trump now has a better understanding of the importance of NAFTA.
“I will take that with a grain of salt. I will turn purple and blue before that happens. I won’t hold my breath. The rhetoric, I really wish we could get this security out of the way, and NAFTA, because all that rhetoric coming out has had a negative effect on the economy,” Cuellar said.
“You know what is happening to our restaurants. Even this restaurant (Palenque Grill), Pancho Ochoa says he’s lost 50 percent of the Mexicanos. Or, the Olive Garden in Laredo, they say they have lost 50 percent of the Mexicanos. You talk to some of the customs brokers and they will say, ‘well, I want to invest but we don’t know, let’s see what happens (with NAFTA).’ It has put us in a holding pattern.”