Cleaner water, air part of new USMCA agreement, Texas congressman says


McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A potential U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) deal includes significant environmental safeguards and funds to improve the air and water on the Southwest border, one Congressman said.

The preliminary deal on the NAFTA-replacement was reached by House Democrats with President Donald Trump and Republicans, a South Texas congressman involved with the talks said Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo), who was appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to chair the U.S./Mexico Inter-Parliamentary Group to help negotiations with Mexican officials, said Wednesday that he was able to interject language into the new USMCA agreement that “secured the deal’s signature environmental safeguard.”

Congress is expected to vote on USMCA next week, a deal that lawmakers have been working on for over a year. It will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1994 pact that governs more than $1.2 trillion worth of trade among the three nations.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, helped to negotiate more funds in the USMCA for environmental safeguards, he said Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Congress is expected to vote on the measure in mid-December. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

The White House has not released the full text of the new agreement, which Democrats reportedly agreed to on Tuesday. However, lawmakers are touting it as “NAFTA 2.0,” and say it will vastly improve trade among the three nations, and add about 200,000 U.S. jobs and raise the U.S. GDP by $70 billion.

Some of the provisions include: More enforcement of labor laws and even allow for unions to form in Mexico, improved ability for U.S. dairy farmers to sell to Canada, restrictions on auto imports from Mexico, updated pharmaceutical laws, and reduce marine pollution and illegal fishing, The Washington Post reports.

This is a big win for the environmental work we do on the border.”

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

Cuellar says USMCA contains a measure that he proposed to double the capital reauthorization for the North American Development Bank (NADB,) which would allow the bank to better fund environmental infrastructure projects on the U.S.-Mexico border. His bill, HR 132, would increase the bank’s capital from $1.5 billion to $3 billion, and both the United States and Mexico would contribute to these funds, he said.

“That is so important for border communities’ water and sewage on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border,” Cuellar said Wednesday in a conference phone call with media. “This is a big win for the environmental work we do on the border.”

However, not all lawmakers are thrilled with USMCA as currently written.

U.S. Rep, Vicente Gonzalez, another South Texas Democrat who represents McAllen, criticized USMCA for not addressing the violence in northern Mexico, which he says hinders trade.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas. (Courtesy Photo)

“While the USMCA raises the bar for enforcement and provides certainty for our farmers, ranchers, and businesses, it still falls short,” Gonzalez said. “This agreement fails to address the single greatest threat to cross-border commerce and tourism: chronic violence and insecurity.”

Violence has erupted across much of northern Mexico, including the state of Tamaulipas, where the U.S. State Department has warned Americans not to travel and has put safety restrictions on U.S. government employees.

But Cuellar said USMCA is a trade agreement not designed to police countries.

“USMCA is a is a trade agreement not a security agreement,” Cuellar said. “While I agree with my counterpart, Vicente Gonzalez, we need to engage our friends to the south. They need to do more to secure their country.”

Cuellar said that 50 percent of the nation’s trade with Mexico is crossing through his hometown of Laredo, and a total of 60 percent comes through South Texas. Every day over $1.7 billion worth of goods cross from Mexico into the United States.

The USMCA should increase trade by 5 to 10 percent, he added, which will boost jobs in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s good certainly for Mexico, but it’s good for the Valley. It’s food for the state of Texas and we’re just excited about what’s going to happen with this trade agreement,” Cuellar said.

Melissa Cigarroa, the board president of the Rio Grande International Study Center, a Laredo-based environmental advocacy group, says safeguarding the Rio Grande is one of their biggest concerns.

Her organization was formed when NAFTA began in 1994 “specifically to protect the health and welfare of the river, because it is 100 percent our source of drinking water. It also feeds 6 million other people and 2 million acres of land,” she said on Saturday, as she was the event organizer for a river sit-in to oppose border wall construction there. “This river system is incredibly important up and down the Rio Grande,” she said.

Read a story on the Laredo silent sit on here.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at

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