Texas, Mexican lawmakers Zoom to discuss how to best reopen borders

Trade

Congressional letter and memo by border group sent to US and Mexican secretaries of state

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Two congressmen from South and West Texas held a video conference call with the governors from five Mexican states to discuss the reopening of “essential” industries and border traffic, and have sent the group’s suggestions to leaders of both countries, Border Report has learned.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from South Texas, coordinated the Friday call with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from West Texas. Cuellar said that what made the Zoom meeting so unique was that it included federal officials from the United States, such as officers with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, as well as Mexican officials and stakeholders from business and industries on both sides of the Rio Grande.

“This call was pretty amazing because you got together five governors from Mexico and our stakeholders from the U.S., and we had stakeholders from the private Mexican side, as well. It was a good call and we made some recommendations and let’s see what happens hopefully soon between both federal governments,” Cuellar told Border Report on Wednesday.

Cuellar stressed that the call was not meant to supersede either nation’s “sovereign authority,” but merely to spitball solutions for defining critical work sectors before May 20, when cross-border travel restrictions imposed on March 20 by both countries due to the coronavirus are set to expire.

Read a Border Report story on the initial Southwest border restrictions.

“I say this very, very respectfully to Mexico that we’re not going into their internal affairs. Were not stepping into their sovereignty. All we’re asking is can the United States and Mexico coordinate on what is essential on the U.S. side, what is essential on the Mexican side so we can continue our trade and supply chains chain moving? That’s all we’re doing,” Cuellar said.

Were not stepping into their sovereignty. All we’re asking is can the United States and Mexico coordinate on what is essential on the U.S. side, what is essential on the Mexican side so we can continue our trade and supply chains chain moving?

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

Current border restrictions allow only essential workers to cross the Southwest border, but both countries have different definitions on what they deem to be “essential” services. Business and border leaders say that is greatly impacting trade and commerce on the Southwest border, where what one country considers necessary work is not necessarily agreed by the other. As a result, many maquiladoras, or plants, in Mexico remain shuttered, while U.S. industries wait for parts necessary in their production lines.

In this March 23, 2017, file photo, workers check screens for faults in Pantos logistics, a “maquiladora” LG flat screen TV assembly plant in Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Friday’s meeting also included members of the nonprofit Border Trade Alliance, including McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz. It also included officials with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who helped to parse out the various differences between both countries and to make suggestions to present to leaders of both nations on the industries they believe are critical not only for the supply chain but to boost the economies of both countries, Cuellar said.

Mexico sets ‘red light, green light’ system for states ahead of reopening economy June 1

Cuellar said Mexican governors from the following states were on the call:

  • Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca, governor of Tamaulipas
  • Silvano Aureoles Conejo, governor of Michoacan
  • Miguel Ángel Riquelme Solís, governor of Coahuila
  • José Rosas Aispuro Torres, governor of Durango
  • Jaime Heliodoro Rodríguez Calderón, governor of Nuevo León

On Tuesday, Cuellar and Hurd sent a letter to U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo and Secretario Marcelo Ebrard of Mexico outlining the group’s suggestions.

“We have a difficult and important task in determining which businesses should remain open under an ‘essential’ business or service definition. That task is made more complicated by cross-border trade, international supply chains, and needed coordination with foreign governments,” the letter read. “We are concerned, however, with divergent definitions of what is considered ‘essential’ in Mexico. Hundreds of American companies are facing challenges navigating these policies surrounding essential economic services and functions. This has resulted in disruptions that are especially concerning when they hinder the ability of components and finished products to move back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border.”

We are concerned, however, with divergent definitions of what is considered ‘essential’ in Mexico”

Letter by U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Will Hurd, both of Texas, to U.S. and Mexican secretaries of state

Attached to the letter was a joint memorandum from the Border Trade Alliance and U.S. Chamber, which said Mexico has an “inconsistent policy surrounding essential economic services and functions. These issues impact nearly every major manufacturing-dependent sector/industry. The memorandum criticized Mexico’s current definitions as overly “broad” and not specific and difficult to pinpoint exactly.

The memorandum said “there is not a clear process or portal for companies to find resources on health requirements or appeal cases,” and suggests Mexico unifies and follows U.S. parameters for the following industries:

  • Construction/infrastructure
  • Food/agriculture
  • Healthcare products
  • HVAC and industrial/commercial refrigeration
  • Mining/critical materials.
  • Power generation
  • Transportation systems
  • Waste and wastewater systems
  • Water purification systems

Laredo Mayor Saenz said that during the call the Mexican governors said their states are expected to hit their peak with COVID-19 cases “in the next two weeks,” and added that reopening of the economies must be done safely.

“They want to encourage opening up biz on both sides but they want to do so safely,” Saenz said this week during a video call with media.

Also adding to international complications is the fact that various U.S. border states are reopening and easing restrictions in very different ways, from Texas, which is charging ahead and allowing more and more businesses to reopen each week, to California, which still has shelter-in-place rules, as well as requirements that Arizona and New Mexico currently have, Cuellar said

“It was very informative and pointed out the need for sharing information regarding local and the above policies and practices relating to the pandemic,” McAllen Mayor Darling told Border Report on Wednesday. “I am hopeful that we move forward with the suggestions and also I would encourage Texas state representation in future discussions.”

Said Cuellar: “There was a lot of thought that was put into this by the private sector and we’re hoping that both federal governments, both on the U.S. and Mexican side, will pay attention to what the Border Trade Alliance and the U.S. Chamber have suggested and recommended.”

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

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