BROWNSVILLE, RGV – A delegation on investors, business executives and civic leaders from the Mexican west coast port of Mazatlán will tour Cameron County on Friday and Saturday to expand international trade opportunities.

Mazatlán Mayor Carlos Eduardo Felton González will lead the high-powered delegation to discuss, among other the things, an expected huge increase in imported fresh produce from Mazatlán and Sinaloa, considered the bread basket of Mexico.

A sister city agreement is expected to be signed that includes Mazatlán along with the cities of Harlingen, Brownsville, San Benito, Port Isabel, South Padre Island, the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, the Port of Brownsville, and Cameron County.

Here is the itinerary for the visiting delegation:

Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Friday the signing of the Sister City agreement will take place, along with presentations and lunch at the Holiday Inn in Brownsville. The visiting delegation will then be taken on a tour of Cameron County from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. A boat tour on South Padre Island will take place at 5:45 p.m. A reception at Sea Ranch on South Padre Island will take place between 7 and 9 p.m.

On Saturday there will be private meetings, followed by a reception and dinner at IBC Bank on FM 802 in Brownsville will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

“It is going to be a great thing,” said Ralph Cowen, chairman of the Brownsville Navigation District. “The delegation will spend one day with Matamoros leaders and two days with us. Then they will fly out on Sunday. In addition to the mayor, we will have the secretary of tourism and the secretary of economic development and some private investors and people that are in the fresh produce business. It is a big group and it is very exciting.”

In an interview with the Guardian last year, Cowen said the Port of Mazatlán handles 500,000 containers a year. “With this highway their projection is this will rise to two million,” he said, referencing the new Mazatlán-Matamoros transoceanic highway, which some have dubbed the Corredor Económico del Norte.

“This highway will be a land bridge,” Cowen said. “If they do double truck loads the cost is comparable to rail rates, it will be competitive with Panama Canal. What is coming out of Mazatlán port will be trans-shipments, headed for U.S. They will have a new route for China containers. Look at LG Televisions of South Korea. They make their TVs in Reynosa for the U.S. market. They import their parts via Long Beach, in California and cross them into Reynosa via Pharr. Now, they can cross them via Mazatlán and it will be cheaper.”

Sergio Romero Barrera, a Mazatlán city commissioner, agreed with Cowen’s analysis. “This highway is going to change Mexico. Mazatlán has about half a million people. There are ten to 15 million in the region. Sinaloa is known as the bread basket of Mexico. All the products from our port from Asia will come across this highway,” Romero told the Guardian.

Romero said trucking firms hauling fresh produce from Sinaloa to the East Coast and the Midwest of the United States are expected to use the Mazatlán-Matamoros highway because it is a much faster route than going the old way, north to Nogales, Arizona and then heading east.

Raudel Garza, executive director of Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, is excited about the visit in part because it will highlight the need to develop Los Indios International Bridge, a port of entry co-owned by Cameron County and the cities of Harlingen and San Benito.

Los Indios is not utilized at anywhere near full capacity but has great potential. It has a connector to I-69 East and overweight truck corridor permit that allows truckers to carry heavier payloads to the Port of the Brownsville. Garza believes an increase in truck traffic from Sinaloa using the new superhighway will strengthen the case for increased investment in infrastructure at Los Indios, including a cold storage park.

“Harlingen is excited about the visit from the Mazatlán delegation because it signifies a desire to build stronger relationships between various groups in Cameron County and Mazatlán’s business and community leaders. We hope to nurture these relationships so that opportunities for trade expand and the use of the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios is maximized,” Garza said.

“The cities of Harlingen, Brownsville, San Benito, Port Isabel, South Padre Island, the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, the Port of Brownsville, Cameron County and the City of Mazatlán will be signing a ‘sister-city’ type of agreement that basically reiterates our collective desires to build a better relationship with each other and to work cooperatively to expand trade and explore other potential business opportunities.”

Garza said the agreement also calls for all entities to visit and meet with each other in Mazatlán and in Cameron County to promote this international trade corridor. “Preliminary plans for a trade mission to Mazatlán will probably be discussed as well in more detail,” Garza added.

In an interview with the Guardian earlier this month, Garza said a regional approach was being taken towards the development of Los Indios. He said an umbrella group had been formed, titled the Cameron County Logistics Alliance. He also said that boosting infrastructure at Los Indios would be advanced by Toyoda Gosei’s decision to build a new freight terminal close to the bridge.

“Regionalism is something Harlingen has taken to heart, as evident by us contributing to the SpaceX project. We have taken that a step further by working with Cameron County and San Benito and the Port of Brownsville and a few other entities to promote Los Indios Bridge. We have also continued to work with Cameron County and the City of Brownsville and United Brownsville with the BiNed efforts,” Garza said.

“The long and short of it is that Harlingen is in cooperation with all of these other communities because we understand that together we can do a lot more than if we can do things on our own. Los Indios Bridge has a lot of potential. It is a very quick bridge to get to, north and south, the lines are short and the facilities are excellent. GSA and Customs have great docks out there.”

Garza said that “some efforts” are underway to continue to develop facilities on the Mexican side that will help with the importation of products into the United States. “On the U.S. side we continue to see a lot of activity at the Los Indios Industrial Park. We are also working with GSA and Customs to try to bring in some additional amenities that will help attract the produce sector.”

Salomon Torres, executive director of San Benito Economic Development Corporation, said he, too, was excited about the visit of the Mazatlán delegation.

“I want to thank the leadership of Cameron County for inviting Mayor Felton González and the other city officials from Felton Mazatlán. It is important our county prepares for the increased trade opportunities the new Mazatlán-Matamoros superhighway brings. We need to especially capitalize on the huge tonnage of fresh produce that will come through the Rio Grande Valley from Sinaloa, which is considered the bread basket of Mexico,” Torres told the Guardian.

Torres spoke about the new Mazatlán-Matamoros superhighway when he gave the keynote speech to the Lower Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at a recent dinner at Los Norteños in Harlingen. He said it crossed seven Mexican states and was one of the great engineering marvels of the world. He predicted that its construction would mean shippers taking produce from Sinaloa would use the Valley, rather than Nogales, Arizona, to cross into the United States for items destined for the Mid West and the East Coast.

“Every international port that has the means for commercial crossings will have an opportunity to tap into that trade, the produce that will be coming from Sinaloa to the East Coast of the United States. That, my friends, is a massive opportunity. It is an opportunity of a generation. If you are interested in tapping into that industry, it is just wide open. It is relevant for us if we want to stay competitive. Every community, large or small has the same opportunity to capitalize on this. Just because you are small does not mean that you cannot capitalize on this. If you are small it probably means you have land. If you have land you are becoming rarer and rarer in the Valley,” Torres said.

As if to emphasize their interest in securing more fresh produce from Sinaloa at the Los Indios International Bridge, both Harlingen EDC and San Benito EDC will be represented at the PMA Fresh Summit and Expo, being held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Oct. 17-19.