Bipartisan bill would boost U.S.-Mexico tourism but COVID-19 border restrictions remain

Trade

Mexican national shoppers still are not allowed to cross into the United States unless they are coming for work, school or medical reasons. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — In an effort to entice more Mexican tourists to the United States and improve tourism between both countries, two Texas congressmen have proposed legislation that would involve both governments collaborating to draw tourists.

If approved, the United States-Mexico tourism Improvement Act of 2021 would involve both countries signing off to joint international promotional efforts to attract tourists. It also would seek to expand the tourism industries in both countries by improving the hotels and hospitality accommodations, boost retail outlets, and tout cultural experiences found in both countries.

The bill was filed Friday by U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from the South Texas border, and Michael McCaul, a Republican from Austin. They co-chair the U.S.-Mexico Interparliamentary Group.

The flags of Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Texas are seen flying on Jan. 7, 2021, in Port Isabel, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

What is not explained, however, is how this would be accomplished as long as Title 42 travel restrictions still are in place between the two countries and Canada to reduce the spread of coronavirus

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-TX

“Before the pandemic, tourism with Mexico was a critical economic driver for our economy. However, this industry has been in the decline,” Cuellar said in a statement. “This bill will build a more resilient tourism economy post COVID-19 by bolstering tourism between our two countries and strengthening our relationship with Mexico.”

“By improving bilateral tourism between the U.S. and Mexico, we can start driving business back to companies that depend on tourists,” said McCaull, who is the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

McCaul said U.S. hospitality, retail and cultural educational sectors have been been “gravely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Prior to the pandemic, Mexican tourism to the United States peaked in 2016 with 18.9 million visitors; that was nearly a quarter of all tourists to the United States that year. Spending by Mexican tourists exceeded $17.5 billion, up nearly 1% from 2015. But since then, tourism levels have been stagnant and slightly down, the lawmakers say.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, second from left, was among a delegation of 10 Republican lawmakers who toured the Rio Grande Valley and spoke at Anzalduas Park in Mission, Texas, on April 9, 2021. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

In 2019, tourism dropped by 3.5% from 2016 levels. And spending by Mexican tourists increased only slightly to $17.6 billion.

“It is important that we continue to support these critical economic sectors as our economy rebuilds,” said McCaul, who recently toured the South Texas border to view the growing immigration influx.

Border leaders, like Cuellar, have repeatedly pushed for trade to fully reopen for border communities by lifting, or partially lifting Title 42 travel restrictions. The biggest complaint is that while Mexican tourists can fly into U.S. airports, they cannot cross via land ports unless they are: deemed “essential workers”; traveling for medical purposes or to attend education institutions; or engaged in cross-border trade. That is keeping the vast majority of Mexican shoppers and tourists away from border communities that rely on retail revenue.

“Right now, if somebody from Monterrey (Mexico), if they want to fly to McAllen or San Antonio or Houston, they can fly in. All they have to do is show their negative (COVID) test. But if that person wants to drive from Monterrey to McAllen, they’re not going to pass because they’re considered ‘non-essential,'” Cuellar recently told Border Report.

Cuellar for several months has been urging the Biden administration to allow Mexican nationals to pass through U.S. land ports as long as they show proof they are “COVID-free.”

“There are places that I think are opening up too fast and then on the border they’re not even considering this and they’re not considering the impact of what it has on border communities; 40-50 percent that depend on just the mexicanos,” Cuellar said.

E-commerce between the countries has increased during the pandemic as travel restrictions have prevented in-person international shopping sprees.

On Monday, the Borders, Trade, and Immigration Institute, which is under the Department of Homeland Security and led by the University of Houston, issued a report on the challenges posed by e-commerce to cross-border trade. The independent study was conducted to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provide better risk assessment capabilities and expand CBP’s data-sharing efforts.

The report urged better labeling and sharing of information among countries, saying it will help to improve trade and commerce between both countries.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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