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State Rep. R.D. 'Bobby' Guerra is pictured with fellow legislators at a hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock, held at the McAllen Convention Center on Oct. 7, 2014. The committee examined the impact of delayed wait times at land ports of entry.

McALLEN, RGV – In an op-ed penned to coincide with his visit to Texas, Mexico’s foreign secretary José Antonio Meade Kuribreña has given a shout out to legislation championed by state Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra.

In the op-ed Meade acknowledged the partnership between Mexico and Texas is close but said there is scope to strengthen it further with a strategic vision, starting with the shared border.

“Texas and Mexico share 33 ports of entry. An open and constructive dialogue is the most effective way to improve bilateral security, boost competitiveness and build fruitful interactions. That has not always been the case in past years,” Meade wrote.

“We therefore welcome Senate Bill 797 – the recently enacted law that will reduce waiting times at the border during the inspection of agricultural products. Initiatives of this kind deepen our collaboration and contribute to our prosperity. We need to promote more of them based on a principle of shared responsibility and avoid unilateral and misguided approaches that seek to build walls rather than bridges between our societies.”

SB 797, authored by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, creates the “Trade Agriculture Inspection Grant Program” and sets up a two-year pilot program that allows state and local funds to be blended so that more fresh produce inspectors can be hired at peak times at border ports of entry. At the end of the pilot project a study will be undertaken to see how effective the pilot program has been. The study will be sent to the legislature. Guerra filed the House version of the bill.

The legislation came about after Guerra hosted a House panel at the McAllen Convention Center in October 2014. He also took legislators on House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock to the Pharr International Bridge, which handles most fresh produce imports in the Rio Grande Valley. At the hearing in McAllen, Valley city, economic development and agriculture industry leaders testified on the need for more agricultural inspectors at international bridges. Among those to testify were Bret Erickson, president and CEO of Texas International Produce Association, Sam Vale, president the South Texas Assets Consortium (STAC) and owner of the Starr Camargo International Bridge, Fred Brouwen, director of operations at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, Paul Heller, director of farming operations for Paramount Citrus, and Keith Patridge, president of McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

“The primary focus of the hearing was to discuss the large increase of imported fresh produce from Mexico and to explore opportunities where the State of Texas could partner with the federal government and private industry to help expedite the movement of fresh produce across Texas ports,” Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian at the time.

Rep. Guerra spoke about the Trade Agriculture Inspection Grant Program while participating in a legislative wrap up event hosted by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. After his speech, Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian about the importance of SB 797.

“We have had a real problem with a lot of our produce rotting at our bridges because of the lack of an insufficient number of produce inspectors. A lot of my colleagues in the House felt like, why should Texas have to come in and do something the federal government should be doing. And there’s some legitimate arguments to that but the problem is that a lot of our industry, the retailers, the growers, the wholesalers, the transporters were losing money as a result of that and Texas as a whole was losing millions of dollars in revenue,” Guerra said.

“So, we filed a bill last session to have a study and as a result we now have a public-private partnership with very little money from the state having to go into it. A lot of private industry, the farmers, the shippers, the wholesalers, some of the bridge owners are pitching in with funds to increase the number of hours the inspectors work at the bridges. That was a great accomplishment. Now, things are going to go much quicker.”

Meade concluded his op-ed by saying the future of the Mexico-Texas relationship is already intertwined by geography and history. “The breadth and scope of our relationship give us a renewed opportunity to steer it together with a shared and strategic purpose,” he said. “This week I will be meeting Gov. Abbott, legislators, entrepreneurs, business leaders, Mexican immigrants, community organizers and stakeholders who are part and parcel of strengthening our ties. I am convinced that through dialogue and engagement, Mexico and Texas can build a path together to a brighter future.”

Meade met Governor Greg Abbott for a private dinner at the Governor’s mansion in Austin. The Mexican delegation that met with Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos were Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs Sergio Alcocer Martinez de Castro, Ambassador Alejandro Ives Estivill Castro, Austin Consul Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, and Director for Mexican Representation Abroad Salvador Musalem Santiago. The issues discussed included bilateral trade, infrastructure, energy reform, and border security.

News reporters were allowed into the room to here statements from Abbott and Meade. (Click here to watch a video produced by the Rio Grande Guardian’s Austin Bureau reporter Carl Lindemann.)

In his remarks, Abbott said he is looking forward to continuing the friendship and relationship the State of Texas and the country of Mexico have.

“We have already begun very productive conversations and dialogue today and we will continue that over the course of the evening. We are talking about ways in which we can build a more productive and economically vibrant relationship together. In furtherance of this I am very proud to have received an invitation to visit Mexico and I have accepted that invitation and look forward to following up on that very soon. But, most importantly, I look forward to the ways in which Texas and Mexico can build upon our long and historic relationship and ensure even more promising results as we move forward,” Abbott said.

Meade agreed that it had been a productive meeting. “I think it allows us to have an idea as to the scope of the importance of the Mexico-Texas relationship. By almost any number, any metric you want to choose, it is a vibrant relationship. It is an important relationship. It is a relationship that is based on people to people, business to business, and connectivity and we are very glad to receive Secretary Cascos in Mexico and very happy now to be able to visit with the Governor and develop an agenda that can make sure that the prosperity of Mexico and Texas continues into the future, that we have a vibrant economic partnership, that we enjoy good creative dialogue. I was happy to extend an invitation to the Governor to visit Mexico. I am very happy that he accepted and I am sure that that visit will take place very soon and that that visit will show that the capacity of both Texas and Mexico to construct a fruitful agenda that will benefit the citizens on both sides. We are very happy to be here.”

While in Austin, Meade also met with UT System Chancellor William H. McRaven and UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves to sign an agreement that will deepen academic relations between Mexico and UT. The agreement includes establishing grants to fund short-term visits by Mexican scholars to pursue research and collaboration at UT Austin. Fenves said it will also provide key support in the STEM fields where, he said, dynamic areas of research, teaching and student exchange between the university and Mexico are on the rise.

“I am excited to welcome this distinguished delegation from Mexico to UT Austin,” said Fenves. “Texas and Mexico share a border more than 1,200 miles long, and our pasts and our futures are tied together at the deepest level. As the state’s flagship university, we look forward to expanding our collaboration with Mexican institutions on a wide variety of educational and research initiatives. I welcome these discussions with Secretary Meade and our other distinguished visitors.”

Editor’s Note: Reporter Carl Lindemann contributed to this story from Austin, Texas.