LAREDO, Texas – At the beginning of the week, before President Trump announced his border wall executive order and before his staff floated the idea of a 20 percent import tax on goods from Mexico, the Congressional Border Caucus held a bipartisan hearing titled “Border Business is America’s Business.”
During the event, business leaders and academics discussed “the value of strong relations with Mexico, the importance of commerce along the border and its value in promoting the economic growth and competitiveness of the United States.”
The congressmen participating were Filemon Vela, of Brownsville, Texas, Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Texas, Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Texas, Susan Davis, of San Diego, California, Vicente Gonzalez, of McAllen, Texas, Gene Green, of Houston, Texas, Raul Grijalva, of Tucson, Arizona, Will Hurd, of San Antonio, Texas, Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso, Texas, Steve Pearce, of Hobbs, New Mexico, Scott Peters, of San Diego, California, and Marc Veasey, of Dallas, Texas.
Vela hosted the event and O’Rourke provided a livestream via his Facebook page.
Witnesses included representatives from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, University of Texas San Antonio, National Association of Manufacturers, Toyota Motor of North America, Wilson Center, Borderplex Alliance, Starr Camargo Bridge Company, Borders Melon Company, and the Laredo and San Diego Chambers of Commerce.
Cuellar invited businessman Sam Vale, president of Starr-Camargo Bridge Company, and Miguel Conchas, President/CEO for the Laredo Chamber of Commerce, to attended the hearing.
In a previous interview, Cuellar said the U.S. can compete with anybody.
“I believe in trade, fair trade and free trade, but we need to talk about how do we make it better,” he said.
Vale mentioned that there’s a common need along the entire border region and that is explaining to the new administration how important border region is for them.
“It’s important that we go ahead and we explain all the benefits in trade to the state of Texas and to the border area,” Vale said. “There are quite a few jobs that depend on trade.”
As an example, Vale said, the agricultural sector alone has 7,000 jobs which wouldn’t exist without trade with México.
“There’s always good and bad things in every action taken to modernize, and that’s something that is normal,” Vale added. “I think that as long as we are doing well in the employment generating area, we will be satisfactory rewarded.”
For Conchas, the thing that worries him the most is the devaluation of the Mexican peso.
“I know why the peso is reacting so much… it is for the doubts about what will happen with NAFTA and so on. Once the Presidents (Donald Trump and Enrique Peña Nieto) meet, there could be some good news, and we could see a positive reaction on the peso,” Conchas said.
Laredo Chamber of Commerce has always been a stronger supporter of NAFTA, Conchas said.
Even though Vale accepted many people in the Valley area are worried with the new U.S. administration, he said it is better to wait until the concepts become a law.
“We are writing rules about our import-export. We need to wait to see the rules before we can decide if it’s good or bad,” he explained. “Sometimes people get worried about change, but change can be good.”
Trade with México supports 5 million U.S. jobs, Congressman Cuellar pointed out in a news release.
“Meaning that one in every 29 workers in the nation depends on U.S.-Mexico trade for their employment,” the document stated. “Every $1 billion in exports from the U.S. to Mexico supports more than 6,000 additional jobs throughout our country.”
Cuellar said the hearing was a good way of reminding the nation of the need to “increase trade with our partners in Mexico, not hamper it.”
Cuellar added: “Texas is the number one state when it comes to trade with Mexico. The goods that come through our border ports travel to every part of the United States. I represent strong and robust local economies in Texas that depend on international trade, such as the Laredo Customs District, headquartered in my home town of Laredo and which handled more than $284 billion in trade in 2015. Our two-way trade in goods and services with Mexico is valued at over $583 billion.
“I thank my colleagues and witnesses who helped spread our valuable message that border business is America’s business.”
After the hearing ended, Rep. Vela said it was an honor to be joined by his House colleagues to discuss border commerce at such a critical time.
“Each panelist gave valuable insight into the effects of strong border relations. My district’s unique position along the border is a prime example of the positive impact border commerce has on economic growth, and I’m hopeful that the information shared today will encourage other members of Congress to look into the benefits of border business,” Vela said.
Rep. Hurd of San Antonio, whose district covers 800 miles of the Texas-Mexico border, said: “The truth is that Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are not competitors – we build things together. We have an exciting opportunity to upgrade NAFTA in a way that increases border trade, reflects emerging industries, and strengthens North American competitiveness, so that all of our economies benefit.”
Rep. Peters of San Diego said: “We do not have to choose between a safe border and one that facilitates prosperous international trade and tourism. By investing in infrastructure and innovative approaches to protecting the border, we can have a system that keeps Americans safe and supports the export of goods made in America by American workers.”
Rep. Davis of San Diego said: “My constituents feel strongly that our shared border is an asset to the region, and not simply a security concern for this administration to point to. We have some incredible models for binational business operations in the San Diego region. It’s critical that we foster the cross-border business relationships to the mutual benefit of both countries.”
Leila Aridi Afas, director of international public policy at Toyota North America, said: “Mexico acts more as our partner than our rival.”
Mark Kroll, dean of the College of Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said: “We need to make the border region more attractive to manufacturers.”
Rep. Marc Veasey of Dallas said the hearing “clearly demonstrated the powerful economic reach of the U.S.-Mexico relationship.” Veasey said that as the new administration sets its foreign policy agenda, “I urge them to remember the economic impact severely disrupting this critical relationship would have on businesses and communities on both sides of the border.”
Freshman Rep. Gonzalez of McAllen said he learned a lot from the hearing.
“There could not have been a more appropriate time to discuss the importance of cross-border commerce and a strong binational relationship with Mexico – something that benefits the region that I represent and our nation as a whole,” Gonzalez said.
“We heard from members of the business community, the academic community, the manufacturing sector, and the agriculture sector who understand firsthand the need to maintain this relationship and continue to promote growth on the U.S.-Mexico border in a way that benefits both the consumer and the producer. It is essential that we work across party lines and business sectors to find opportunities to build on this relationship rather than destroy it.”
Editor’s Note: Editor Dayna Reyes contributed to this story from McAllen, Texas.