LAREDO, Texas – Governor Greg Abbott has been to Washington, D.C., to make sure the Trump Administration knows where Texas’ relationship with Mexico stands, says Secretary of State Rolando Pablos.

Pablos gave the keynote address at the Texas Border Coalition’s annual meeting in Laredo on Thursday. In a Q&A after the speech, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz asked Pablos where the Governor stood on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Interest in where Texas stands on trade with Mexico has heightened because the Governor’s Office did not offer official testimony to the federal government’s trade representative when renegotiation of NAFTA began.

Saenz said he understands Abbott has a “issued a position statement on NAFTA, favoring the continuation of NAFTA and improving it.”

Rolando Pablos
Secretary of State Rolando Pablos

Pablos responded: “Governor Abbott has always been very consistent in speaking about the relationship with Mexico and his belief that not only is it strong but that it needs to continue to stay strong. And so, the other day he spoke to the NAFTA question simply because he has been in Washington. He had an opportunity to meet with Secretary Tillerson and he also went to the White House to meet with Chief of Staff Kelly. And so, at that time he took that opportunity to make sure that they understood that his vision for a stronger Texas includes a strong trade relationship with Mexico. He has been very consistent in saying that. Yes, he had a press conference, a telephone conference and during that time he did mention that.”

The response pleased Saenz, who is the incoming chairman of the Texas Border Coalition. The TBC is making its own position on NAFTA clear; that it supports the agreement. The City of Laredo has already done so.

In his speech, Pablos said Texas would never turn its back on Mexico.

“Governor Abbott is up in Washington, D.C., advocating for trade with Mexico. I am traveling to Mexico City and Monterrey. I am going to Guadalajara next week. I am working hard to make sure that we spread the message that the (Mexico) relationship with Texas is strong. And what I have been saying all along is Texas will never turn its back on Mexico and we haven’t, and we won’t,” Pablos said.

Pablos started his speech by giving some biographical details. He said he was born in Sonora, Mexico, and that his family moved to Ciudád Juárez, in Chihuahua, Mexico, when he was very young. From there they moved to El Paso. Pablos said he went to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and met his wife while he was living in the Alamo City. He said he moved back to El Paso to run a non-profit that focused on bi-national economic development initiatives. That initiative was the Borderplex Alliance and its scope of work included El Paso, Juárez and Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Pablos said that while working for the Borderplex Alliance he took staffers from Washington, D.C., to see Juarez for themselves. He said many had never been to the border region before, and yet their bosses were passing legislation impacting the region. Fast forwarding to today, Pablos said El Paso Mayor Dee Margo and Ciudád Juárez Mayor Héctor Armando Cabada Alvídrez have just created a regional coalition involving their two municipalities. Pablos said he supports local government, economic development groups and the private sector making those bi-national connections.

“It is taking shape – my vision is to see this all along the Texas-Mexico border. Making sure each one of our communities has an opportunity to seek new investment and an excellent opportunity to receive the tremendous trade that is to come,” Pablos said.

“Trade is only going to get better, guys. We need to make sure we prepare ourselves. And that is where I come in as a state official. The work that we’ve been doing at the Secretary of State’s Office with regards to diplomacy, relations with the Mexican government, with the Mexican private sector, we are doing that. And it is strong, and it shows.”

Pablos said he is also pleased with a new approach being taken by the Border Trade Advisory Committee. He said working with the Texas Department of Transportation, the Secretary of State’s Office is turning that committee into “an organization of action.” He said the committee’s chair, Caroline Mays is “doing an excellent job.” Now, he said, the group is “more informative and more inclusive” and has “added energy as a component.”

Pablos said he would like to see Texas’ 13 maritime ports added to the scope of the Border Trade Advisory Committee’s work. Currently, the group focuses on Texas’ 28 land ports. “I argue that we should include them into the mix, so we can all work together to bring prosperity along our state’s border,” Pablos said.

“(Let’s) figure out what we can do together, come together and make one playbook. We already have the model of the Borderplex Alliance, creating a mega region. That will help us bring that prosperity that we need. It will help us come together and build the capacity we need to attract investors because we also need to diversify our economy. We need to make sure we can do it together.”

The Texas Border Coalition comprises cities, counties, economic development groups and the private sector. In years past it had more cities involved than it does today. Pablos said he can help. “We will bring in Mayor Margo to the Border Coalition, I promise you that. I think everybody needs to be involved, from El Paso to Presidio, Del Rio, Eagle (Pass) and all the way down. We need everybody to participate. I am focused on this. This is a top priority for me,” Pablos said.

Pablos said another area he is focused on is economic development in rural areas. “The governor has asked me to focus particularly on rural economic development and we have a lot of rural communities along the border that also need assistance. So, that is it. That is what we are doing.”

Border Security

In the Q&A Pablos was asked how his office and Texas generally fits into efforts to secure the border. Pablos responded:

“So, within the scope of border security, Governor Abbott has always been very consistent in saying that he wants to make sure that we have secure borders. But, at the same time I think the message has been to really improve communication between the governments. And so that has really been the focus. Director Steve McCraw, (at) DPS, is an expert in the field of security. He has many of his personnel down along the border and we work in conjunction to ensure that the relationship with the Mexican counterparts are strong and that the communication remains open so that we can work together and make sure that they are able to enforce Texas law.”

Mayor Saenz said he would like to see comprehensive immigration reform and asked Pablos about that. Pablos responded that immigration was a federal responsibility. That said, he said does want to see Mexican Americans that have made Texas home secure a better life.

Commentator Ron Whitlock, of Ron Whitlock Reports, asked Pablos what Texas can do to help Tamaulipas Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca, stop illegal weapons entering Mexico from Texas. Whitlock said the governor recently reached out for help. Pablos responded:

“I had an excellent opportunity to sit down with Governor Cabeza de Vaca to talk about that and other important issues like economic development. This particular request, I am not privy to. I have not heard about that request. I am sure that that was relayed over to DPS. I think that the focus, particularly from my office with the Governor has been on making sure that the Tamaulipas (trade) houses he is opening up here and the economic development opportunities are strong. I haven’t heard about that request.”

J.D. Salinas, the outgoing chair of TBC, said his group has discussed the issue of illegal weapons entering Mexico.

“On the issue with checkpoints, we have worked with Senator Cornyn’s office and we are going to continue, as the Texas Border Coalition, to try to take the consensus of the organization and see what we can do about it. As we know, drugs go up and money and guns come back so we need to work together to come up with a solution. That is why we are here,” Salinas said.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows IBC Bank Vice President Eddie Aldrete, outgoing Texas Border Coalition Chair J.D. Salinas, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, Laredo Mayor and incoming Texas Border Coalition Chair Pete Saenz, and IBC Bank Vice President Gerry Schwebel.

LIVE: Secretary of State Rolando Pablos is speaking at Texas Border Coalition's annual meeting in Laredo. His theme: Bordervision: Empowering Border Communities Through Trade & Capacity Building.

Posted by Rio Grande Guardian on Thursday, November 2, 2017