BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Commerce Secretary Penny A. Pritzker says the U.S. and Mexico cannot rely on personalities to drive economic development projects between the two countries and must instead develop a coordinated, sustainable, and effective strategy.
Pritzker spoke at the official inauguration for the West Rail Bypass project, the first new international rail bridge built between the U.S. and Mexico in over 100 years. She intimated that personalities were at play in the final push to get the bridge between Brownsville and Matamoros complete, years after it has first been approved for construction. She referenced Mexican Secretary of Finance and Public Credit Luis Videgaray Caso, who also spoke at the inauguration.
“We cannot wait another 100 years before we inaugurate the next new bridge or road that connects our two countries. Secretary Videgaray knows this as well as anyone. In February of 2014 we sat in his office as the secretary described this project, the West Rail Bypass, he said this is low hanging fruit,” Pritzker said.
“The two of us and many others of you here have focused on driving this project to completion but we need a process that is not driven solely by the individual personalities here today. We need a strategy that is coordinated, sustainable, and effective. We cannot take a decade to finish a critical piece of infrastructure.”
Pritzker said that in the 21st Century businesses need more efficiency from their governments.
“We are working to develop this improved approach in the High Level Economic Dialogue, consistent with the goals that were articulated by our presidents, President Obama and President Peña Nieto when they launched our bilateral cooperation in 2013. They want us to realize the vision of North America as the most competitive region in the world, and to make it easier for our companies, yes, our companies, companies on both sides of the border, to do more business together,” Pritzker said.
In May 2013, President Obama and President Peña Nieto announced the formation of the High Level Economic Dialogue to “advance strategic economic and commercial priorities central to promoting mutual economic growth, job creation, and global competitiveness.”
In addition to Pritzker and Videgaray, other VIPs to speak at the inauguration were Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, Mexican Secretary of Communications and Transport Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske.
Other officials at the ceremony were U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, Mexican Embassy Washington Chargé d’Affairs Alejandro Estivill, Mexican Tax Administration Service Chief Aristóteles Núñez, Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre Cantú, Matamoros Mayor Leticia Salazar, and U.S. Embassy Mexico City Chargé d’Affaires William H. Duncan, and Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, Mexico’s consul in Brownsville.
Mayor Martinez introduced Pritzker, the 38th U.S. secretary of commerce. Martinez said: “With multiple years of experience in the private sector she has developed a quote, unquote, open for business agenda and has initiated high-level economic dialogue with Mexico. Madam Secretary Pritzker earned her Bachelor’s degree in economics at Harvard University and J.D. and MBA degrees from Stanford University. As she said in the New York Times today, ‘for too long we’ve been thinking about the U.S.-Mexico relationship being one about security. I wish we spent more time talking about how we grow our economic bond’.”
Here are Secretary Pritzker’s remarks in full:
Thank you, thank you very much. Thank you Mayor Martinez for the introduction and for hosting this wonderful crowd at this very historic event. Your commitment, mayor, to economic development in Brownsville consistently recognizes the U.S.-Mexico border as a vehicle for growth, for the people, for the workers, and the businesses, of our cities. I want to acknowledge Congressman Hinojosa who joins us from his district just next door. As a local business owner, long before his time in Congress, he understands firsthand the importance of global trade and strong U.S.-Mexico ties to companies and communities across the region. I would be remiss if I did not mention Congressman Vela who was unable to join us today, who has been a very strong advocate in getting the West Rail facility open. I also want to thank our U.S. government colleagues from Customs and Border Patrol, from the Department of State, the Department of Transportation, and I want to offer specifically my special thanks to my colleagues and my friends from Mexico, Secretary Videgaray, Secretary Meade, and Secretary Esparza.
We have worked very closely together. This has been a personal passion for us to get this project and the others along the border done, demonstrating how important it is that our borders work for all of the businesses on both sides of the border. Each of these departments have been integral to the completion of the West Rail project and we could not have reached this momentous occasion without the participation of so many here.
Everyone here today appreciates the U.S. and Mexican markets are inextricably linked and that this region is the staging point for the vast majority of our bilateral commercial activity. Nearly $1.5 billion of goods cross between the United States and Mexico each and every day. And approximately 80 percent of the U.S.-Mexico goods trade crosses our border via road and rail. And, U.S. imports from Mexico contain 40 percent U.S. content, which means the U.S. and Mexico, we make things together. And these goods are often going back and forth across the border many times before we have a final good that we might sell to one another or we may sell to some other part of the world. Put simply, our shared border is already an essential artery of prosperity for both our countries. But we need to do everything we can to make sure that it is up to the task of the 21st Century, given the volume of trade that we do between ourselves today.
One reason for the exponential growth in our bilateral commerce is the North American Free Trade Agreement. Since the implementation of NAFTA total trade between our countries has expanded six-fold. This rapid expansion has created jobs and opportunity on both sides of the border and made our region far more competitive in the global economy. However, the associated increase in commercial activity has put an overwhelming strain on our transportation infrastructure and our land ports of entry. Our commercial crossings were not modernized following the completion of NAFTA, which means we are still using infrastructure that was built for roughly a quarter of the current trade volume. And the congestion at our borders will only become more acute once we finalize and implement the Trans Pacific Partnership.
So, the conclusion is obvious. In an increasingly globalized economy our collective competitiveness depends on our ability to replace outdated infrastructure and continue to develop a modern, efficient and secure border. This is why we are prioritizing the development and execution of border infrastructure projects under the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue. We have already made progress. You’ve heard about the progress that we have made. For example, at the port of entry in San Diego and Tijuana, the busiest land crossing in the world, we reduced wait times from three hours to 30 minutes. At the Nogales-Mariposa port of entry we recently completed a project that more than doubles the facility’s capacity. The structure is now able to handle about 4,000 trucks a day, up from about 1,600 and process up to about $35 million of goods a day. Today, we take another step forward as we inaugurate the West Rail Bypass, the first new railway crossing linking the United States and Mexico in more than a century. Completing this project required a Herculean effort from United States and Mexican leaders at the federal, state and local levels, as well as our private sector partners. Finishing this rail line took over a decade and required overcoming major hurdles. Our teams persevered and we should be incredibly proud of this project.
But, we cannot wait another 100 years before we inaugurate the next new bridge or road that connects our two countries. Secretary Videgaray knows this as well as anyone. In February of 2014 we sat in his office as the secretary described this project, the West Rail Bypass, he said this is low hanging fruit. The two of us and many others of you here have focused on driving this project to completion but we need a process that is not driven solely by the individual personalities here today. We need a strategy that is coordinated, sustainable, and effective. We cannot take a decade to finish a critical piece of infrastructure. In the 21st Century our businesses need more efficiency from our governments. We are working to develop this improved approach in the High Level Economic Dialogue, consistent with the goals that are articulated by our presidents, President Obama and President Peña Nieto when they launched our bilateral cooperation in 2013. They want us to realize the vision of North America as the most competitive region in the world, and to make it easier for our companies, yes, our companies, companies on both sides of the border, to do more business together. So, thank you all for being here today to officially inaugurate the West Rail Bypass and for your commitment to keeping the United States and Mexico open for business. Thank you.