U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in a panel discussion Wednesday said Texas and the United States would only see increasing benefits from continued trade with Mexico.

Part of a daylong meeting of the Texas Department of Transportation’s Border Trade Advisory Committee, Hurd voiced support for a renegotiation of a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that protects mutually beneficial elements.

Cornyn said he’s excited by how Mexico has reformed its laws to permit foreign investment in its emerging energy industries.

Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos moderated the panel discussion, which helped cap a day’s worth of panels and presentations for the committee at the Alamo Colleges Workforce Center of Excellence.

The 32-member committee is made up of officials representing Texas local governments, advocacy organizations, and businesses, each with a stake in border trade-related issues.

Aside from committee members, more than 50 people listened to the two Republican lawmakers and Texas Transportation Commission Chair Tryon Lewis’ panel discussion.

Cornyn said the impact of healthy border trade partnerships between the U.S. and Mexico on the economies of Texas and on both nations cannot be understated.

“About 5 million American jobs depend on binational trade with Mexico,” he said. “There are tremendous economic development opportunities for both of our countries, especially with the energy revolution in Mexico and the new laws they’ve put in place.

“Someone put it to me that the Eagle Ford shale doesn’t stop at the Rio Grande,” Cornyn continued. “Our destinies are joined together. The better Mexico does, the better we do.”

Cornyn and Hurd acknowledged the inclination among some federal lawmakers to enact more protectionist trade policies.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (left) speaks quietly with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (D23) before the panel on Texas and Mexico relations.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (left) speaks with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd before the panel on U.S.-Mexico relations. Credit: Hannah Whisenant / San Antonio Report

On May 18, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer informed Congress of the Trump administration’s intent to renegotiate NAFTA, a 23-year-old pact, setting off a 90-day process to begin formal talks among the U.S, Mexico, and Canada.

NAFTA must have a chance to succeed in the 21st century by focusing on the growing digital economy and how well data can be stored securely, he said. “NAFTA 2.0 should be based around that.”

Hurd, whose congressional district covers much of the U.S.-Mexico border and West Texas, said it is crucial for Texas to play a prominent role in NAFTA renegotiation.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is accepting public input ahead of NAFTA renegotiations on its website. Written comments are due by June 12. A public hearing will be held June 27 in Washington, D.C.

“We need to make sure Texas has influence in this conversation. There should be a Texas-centric focus,” Hurd said.

Lewis said NAFTA has significantly affected cross-border traffic and commerce in several Texas cities.

Texas Transportation Commission chair Tryon Lewis discusses trade relations with Mexico on the panel at Alamo Colleges.
Texas Transportation Commission Chair Tryon Lewis discusses trade relations with Mexico on the panel at Alamo Colleges. Credit: Hannah Whisenant / San Antonio Report

“There’s $600 billion a year in trade, and it’s Texas-directed trade. About 75% of the trade is traveling in and out of Texas,” Lewis said. “Rail is a big component of that, but it’s also trucks. Over 10,000 trucks come into Texas from Mexico everyday. It’s an enormous economic benefit to this state.”

The value of trade with Mexico doubled between 2005 and 2015, and truck traffic went up 20% to 30% during that time, he said.

Mexico’s rising gross domestic product, standard of living, and job opportunities along the border and across the U.S. can be attributed to trade relations, he added. “The great thing about trade with Mexico is that it’s reciprocal trade. It’s the healthiest kind of trade.”

Cornyn, Hurd, and Lewis agreed it is also critical to address infrastructure issues along the Texas-Mexico border and ensure roadways and railways keep pace with the increasing rate of trade-related traffic.

TxDOT is developing a blueprint that encourages greater coordination among border communities and other stakeholders statewide on trade traffic and infrastructure concerns.

Cornyn said the federal government has historically underfunded border infrastructure.

To that end, federal agencies have sought out pilot private and public sector programs and other innovative methods toward securing more funding to improve border infrastructure and security.

Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) allows governors of border states to designate up to 5% of their surface transportation block grant program funds on border infrastructure projects.

“It demonstrates we’re all working together in creative ways to provide tools for support infrastructure,” Cornyn said.

San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos was part of Wednesday’s events. He lauded Congress’ passage of the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act (CBTEA) in late 2016.

The legislation makes it easier for the federal government to enter into public-private partnerships to help improve border infrastructure.

“It’s meant for local communities to put skin in the game – local leverage,” Cavazos told the panel.

Cornyn said bipartisanship among members of Congress as well as communication among border stakeholders helped make the CBTEA a reality.

“The key to dealing with border trade issues is collaboration and consultation with local stakeholders,” he added.

Cornyn and Hurd said bolstering border security, improving infrastructure and maintaining a high level of trade should not be mutually exclusive.

“Border security is important, but border trade is also important. They’re both going to need our help,” Cornyn said.

Hurd said there are many ways to achieve more border safety without erecting the wall the Trump administration has envisioned.

“Building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security,” Hurd said in a press conference afterward.

Instead, Hurd suggested enhancing intelligence-gathering on drug cartels and other criminal activity in Mexico as one alternative to constructing a border wall.

Humanizing the positive effects of NAFTA and other border trade initiatives could also be conducive to renegotiating of the pact, Hurd and Cornyn said.

Both lawmakers have traveled to communities on both sides of the border, such as Ciudad Juarez. Hurd said lawmakers outside of Texas as well as American citizens across the nation should see the good that is happening in Mexico, such as Mexico City’s vibrant economy and that country’s efforts to improve internal public safety.

“Anybody making a decision about this should see it with their own eyes,” he added.

(From left to right) Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Office of Secretary of State Avdiel Huerta, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (D23) speak before the panel on Texas and Mexico relations.
(From left to right) Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, Consul General of Mexico Ambassador Reyna Torres Mendivíl, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (D23) greet one another before the panel on Texas and Mexico relations.  Credit: Hannah Whisenant / San Antonio Report

Cornyn Addresses Trump/Russia Investigation

In a press conference following the panel, Cornyn briefly talked with reporters who had questions about the FBI investigation into possible ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign and administration.

Cornyn said he looks forward to testimony from James Comey, whom Trump dismissed as FBI director, in an upcoming Senate committee hearing.

“I have the suspicion there’s an untold story there that will be quite revealing,” the senator said.

Cornyn said Comey should be asked if he agrees with the U.S. Deputy Attorney General’s memo outlining rationale his firing.

Regarding allegations of the Russian government meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Cornyn said the investigation must be allowed to play out in an objective manner. He also voiced concern about evidence pointing to Russian cyber espionage and propaganda efforts.

“This is a hyperpolitical environment and it’s hard to get to the facts in a dispassionate sort of way,” he said. “But I think that’s what we have to do – follow the facts wherever they lead us.”

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.