Border alliance says closing border would hurt economy

In this Dec. 11, 2018, photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a meets with Democratic leaders the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (Evan Vucci | The Associated Press)

The Border Trade Alliance’s response to Trump’s comments, for example, was swift and to the point. On Dec. 28 the president tweeted his intention to shut down the border if Democrats don’t agree to wall funding. On Dec. 29 the BTA issued a statement “strongly rejecting” the president’s call.

“The mere threat to close the border with Mexico is damaging to our economies, regardless if a closure were actually to happen,” said BTA Chairwoman Paola Avila. “Two-way trade between our two countries has already exceeded $512 billion this year. Discussion of closing the border creates uncertainty into the border economy and puts at risk the commerce and travel that links the U.S. and Mexico and that is responsible for millions of jobs.”

She noted that nearly 500,000 people enter this country daily at various points of entry, and that closing the border would translate into losses of hundreds of millions of dollars for the United States. Mexico is Texas’ largest trading partner and the United States’ third largest trading partner.

BTA is a nonprofit network of public- and private-sector representatives from Canada, Mexico and the United States who discuss and advocate border development, trade and quality of life in the Americas.

Ralph Cowen, Brownsville Navigation District board secretary and a member of the BTA board, said he’s experienced border closings before: in 1963 after the Kennedy assassination, and in 1985 when DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was murdered in Mexico.

The first instance was in response to a national emergency, the second an attempt by then President Ronald Reagan to exert political pressure on Mexico, Cowen said.

“There we were talking about something much different than trying to build a wall,” he said. “We can’t tolerate shutting down the border.”

Cowen said Rio Grande Valley cities like Brownsville wouldn’t amount to much without U.S.-Mexican trade, which the Port of Brownsville plays a major role in.

“We all exist because we’re at the crossroads of the hemisphere and we facilitate the trade that goes on between the two countries,” he said. “If it wasn’t for that we would be a small community. There would be no reason for us to exist except as an agricultural community.”

BTA President Britton Clarke noted that the impasse over wall funding and the partial government shutdown is happening just weeks before Congress is supposed to begin negotiating implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which was created to succeed the North American Free Trade Agreement.

He urged Congress and the White House and Congress to settle the impasse and get under way on USMCA discussions.

“Physical barriers have enhanced security in some sections of the border, but the idea that limited federal dollars should be diverted to the construction of a border wall is an imprudent use of resources,” Clarke said.

It makes more sense to hire additional Customs and Border Protection officers, which Congress has called for, and upgrade port infrastructure to better process legitimate trade, reduce congestion and increase interdiction of illegitimate goods.

Cowen said that instead of building walls the United States should be helping promote safety and economic prosperity for people of Mexico and Central America so they won’t be driven by desperation to come to this country.

“That’s the answer: Not to block caravans, but not have one,” he said.

Paraphrasing another U.S. president, Cowen added, “Geography has made us neighbors and it’s up to us to be friends.”