Luis Bazan, director of Pharr International Bridge.

PHARR, RGV – Pharr International Bridge Director Luis Bazan, who is in Washington, D.C. this week for NAFTA-related meetings, is organizing a major international trade conference for early September.

Bazan said the conference will be regional in nature and would likely be held in Pharr or McAllen.

“We are going to hosting this conference with Inbound Logistics, a company we have formed a strong relationship with at different supply chain conferences in recent years. The International Trade Conference will be regional in nature,” Bazan said, in a telephone conversation from Baltimore.

Bazan said the conference would likely appeal to logistics firms, freight forwarders, customs brokers, shippers, transportation companies and those in supply-chain operations.

“Obviously, NAFTA will be a key topic at the conference. We want to showcase the importance of U.S. and Mexico partnerships and the bi-national efforts that are necessary for international trade,” Bazan said.

Last week, President Trump gave formal notice he will renegotiate NAFTA, the free trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Administration officials sent a letter to Congress that triggers a 90-day consultation period among the administration, Congress and business.

In preparation for this, Bazan and his team two months ago set up the Pharr NAFTA Modernization Committee to prepare a position paper on the international trade agreement. Among its members are Bazan, Pharr Bridge Board Chairman Edgar Delgadillo, and Pharr lobbyist Hollis Rutledge. Bazan said he has been in consultation with the North American Strategy for Competitiveness, a pro-trade group Pharr Bridge Board belongs to.

“We want to start narrowing down some of the key issues in NAFTA that affect us, such as Rules of Origin, Tariff Shifts and Technical Barriers,” Bazan told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“We want to be ready just in case we are able to an audience with Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative. What would we want to tell him? That we want extended hours of operation, that we do not want a Border Adjustment Tax, that the 60-40 rule be applied fairly to all. Our ultimate goal is to sit down face-to-face with the top-ranking legislators who will be instrumental in shaping the future of NAFTA.”

Article 401 and its annex deals with Rules of Origin in the NAFTA agreement. It defines what goods are wholly obtained or produced in the NAFTA region, what goods are produced in the NAFTA region from wholly originating materials, etc.

The Pharr Bridge is the busiest bridge in the Rio Grande Valley for commercial truck crossings and is No. 2 in the nation for the importation of fresh produce from Mexico. More than one million vehicles crossed the bridge in 2015-2016. Of these, more than 540,000 were commercial vehicles.

With Bazan on this week’s trip to Washington, D.C., are Fred Brouwen, director of operations at the Pharr International Bridge, and Ezequiel Ordonez, Pharr’s liaison in Mexico. Alongside officials from the State of Tamaulipas, the delegation is making a presentation on current and future infrastructure projects on both sides of the Pharr International Bridge. The presentation is being made to the Bi-National Bridge and the Border Crossings Group.

Bazan was also in Washington, D.C., last week, along with members of the NAFTA Modernization Committee.

“We had a clear objective, to ensure that our opinions were heard when it comes to NAFTA. We visited Senators and Congressmen, as well as CBP, the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Transportation and the Embassies of Canada and Mexico, amongst others,” Bazan said.

“One of the biggest takeaways from visiting Washington, was that our nations leaders’ motives have shifted from a negative connotation to a more positive tone. It’s not about killing NAFTA anymore, it’s about reviving it. That is huge for us.”

Bazan said he would report in with more NAFTA-related information when he returns from Washington, D.C.

“We plan to continue our fight in Washington for our customers and the future of international trade,” Bazan said. “I would like to express my sincere appreciation to our customers. As Bridge Director, my primary goal is to coordinate efforts at the local, state and federal levels, both in the U.S. and Mexico, to offer our customers the best service, always being mindful of their safety and continued prosperity.”