NAFTA input to begin after notification

Two Texas Congressmen boarded the same airplane home from Washington Friday, one with a direct line of communication to those involved in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, the other hails from the border and has seen his hometown boom thanks to the pact.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, Chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which NAFTA falls under. The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction of NAFTA on the Senate side.

Brady shared a plane to his home state with Laredo Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose district stretches to western Hidalgo County. Cuellar has seen his hometown benefit in large part due to NAFTA.

Now, the agreement is being primed to be “modernized.” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent a letter to Congress on Thursday expressing the Trump Administration’s intent to renegotiate the two-decade old agreement. That letter triggered a 90-day clock before the U.S., Mexico and Canada can sit down to begin renegotiations.

“The 90-day clock sort of reaffirms a sense of urgency around the negotiation and a desire to get something fairly concrete by the end of the year,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, a Brownsville native. “I think that’s unlikely but a worthy objective.”

Garza added he believes the three countries will likely be starting the negotiations looking at the positives, and “updating the agreement should be a healthy, constructive exercise.”

A business group, as well as other Rio Grande Valley officials, will visit Washington for an RGV Day the week of June 12 to meet with members of the Texas delegation in Congress. The group will also meet with business people in Washington and trade stakeholders.

“We’re in a prime position to engage in this conversation, primarily because of the economic impact our region drives at the national level,” said Sergio Contreras, President of the RGV Partnership. “We live it; we understand the importance and growth that legitimate trade has on our community.”

Meanwhile, Cuellar will try to use his long relationship with Brady that spans back to the early 1990s, when the two were in the Texas House of Representatives, to help the NAFTA renegotiation preparations.

The day before the notification was sent to Congress, Cuellar set up a meeting between Brady and the Texas democratic delegation, as well as some Mexican business people who were in Washington visiting Cuellar.

Another thing Cuellar will push for is additional infrastructure and staffing at ports of entry.

“I know that’s outside the scope,” Cuellar said. “But a lot of times there can be side agreements.”

Cuellar also said Brady told him Lighthizer plans to move periodically through the agreement over the next few months, to evaluate every part. Cuellar added that he plans to call Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray regarding the North American Development Bank, which is a binational financial institution governed equally by the U.S. and Mexico for the purpose of financing projects by the Border Environment Cooperation Commission.

Videgaray said Friday that Mexico will not accept tariffs or quotas, which is something officials in the Valley believe would be a bad idea for the U.S.

Cuellar didn’t specifically mention tariffs or quotas, but he will make sure information regarding country of origin, environmental issues, e-commerce and labor issues are discussed.

But he was clear to Brady he wants to have an impact over the next 90 days.

“This is it,” Cuellar said.