Miguel Perez is feeling anxious. As the owner of a leasing company operating along the U.S.-Mexico border, Perez is keenly aware that trade and Mexico emerged among this year’s boogeymen, with President-elect Donald Trump at times sounding highly critical of both. But now that the contentious election is over, Perez hopes the president-elect and those closest to him will understand what Americans living along the border have known for generations: trading with our neighbor to the south is a good thing.
The good news for Perez is that many in Congress agree.
Among those include a bipartisan group of senators and congressman that fought hard to send to the president’s desk a bill that would significantly ease border trading by reducing commercial wait times. First term Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) was among those leading the fight, working alongside Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), to make permanent a series of successful public-private partnerships that have sprung up along the southern border for some time now.
Had Congress fully funded the agencies with jurisdiction over border and trade in recent years, the public-private partnerships may never have happened. And as a result, the outcome of the legislation may prove a useful template for other public-private partnerships down the lines especially in transportation, infrastructure and trade.
The details of the bill are mundane and full of Washington-speak, but vital for the local communities it impacts most. When signed by President Obama, the bill would give the U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) the ability to provide custom agricultural and inspection-related services for a fee while sharing construction and maintenance fees with another government agency. The bill would also allow the CBP to accept donations from individuals in the form of money, facility construction and maintenance, as well as infrastructure investments.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, has led the push to protect American businesses that have cross-border commercial ties to Mexico. | Photo: AP
This form of innovative thinking makes a lot of sense to international trade attorney Scott Lincicome, who considers custom and border disputes a type of trade barrier. “Trade facilitation initiatives like this are important,” Lincicome told Opportunity Lives. “I like that these initiatives appear to be privately financed through user fees or donations.”
For Perez, whose livelihood depends on smooth border crossings to transport machinery and heavy equipment, paying user fees is all part of running a successful business. “I will be able to move more equipment by making border crossings less burdensome,” Perez said.
And with an estimated $52 billion in annual trade and services crossing the border each way with Mexico, according to Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), making it easier for Miguel Perez to conduct business would seem to most as common sense. But of course in this year of upside down politics, nothing is a given.
The president-elect has made a number of eyebrow-raising comments, including at times calling for the United States to withdraw from NAFTA, a landmark trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. Trump has also said he wants to “punish” companies for shipping jobs overseas. And while this may not directly impact businesses like Perez’s, this doesn’t mean that Trump’s tough talk won’t leave a more searing impression on the minds of Americans that trading is a net drain on our economy.
Perez understands why protectionism plays well in certain parts of the country. But as he sees it, “globalization is a force that the U.S. cannot stop.” Better to embrace the market forces and avoid risking a trade war. “China can play hardball too,” said Perez.
And for now at least it seems that Perez will have a sympathetic ear in Congress. In addition to the efforts of Reps. Hurd and Cueller, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) also played an important role in ensuring that the bill was included in the last-minute deal making that took place in the waning days of the current Congress.
If trade protectionism emerges as an important priority in the Trump administration, don’t expect the Republican Congress to roll over if the president wants to rip up NAFTA, start a trade war or get in the way of public-private partnerships along the U.S.-Mexico border that benefit the whole economy.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega.