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Commentary: Implementation of USMCA begins now

In 1993, when NAFTA was adopted, unemployment rates along the Texas-Mexico border were in double digits. The trade agreement increased business activity, created jobs and brought economic prosperity to South Texas.

Now, at the dawn of a new era with the implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the economy of South Texas is prosperous, which is what those of us who worked to pass the new agreement were fighting to protect. Considering 95 percent of customers who purchase U.S. goods and services live outside the United States, trade is our economic lifeline.

For the past two years, we have traveled with mayors, county judges, chamber of commerce leaders and trade advocacy groups all across North America to build support for USMCA. We have gone to the USMCA negotiating sessions in Canada, Mexico and Washington, D.C. We have had high-level meetings, starting with then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. We have sat down numerous times with Mexican Ambassadors Geronimo Gutierrez and Martha Bárcena. We have held, hosted and attended countless strategy meetings with our friends in the Mexican private sector from the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial to the Asociacion de Empresarios Mexicanos.

Some of the naysayers said it would be a “cold day” before we could get this trade agreement passed. Well, they were right. It was cold in Washington late last month, but I felt nothing but a warm sense of accomplishment at the signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House.

Nothing flourishes in stagnation. Only in growth do we prosper and succeed. The office of Gov. Greg Abbott recently cited the January 2020 economic forecast by the Perryman Group highlighting the future effects of USMCA on the Texas economy. The state’s annual gross product is projected to be $17.6 billion higher with the ratification of the new trade agreement, and an increase of 164,700 new jobs is forecast. These gains for the Texas economy augment the already 2.2 million jobs directly dependent on international trade and the state’s $1.6 trillion annual gross domestic product.

Despite the ratification of USMCA, there is no time for a victory lap. The next stage is the implementation of this agreement. It does us no good to see increased trade at our ports of entry if we do not have the customs inspectors and infrastructure to process that trade. “Regulation” doesn’t work unless it ensures the “regular” flow of goods and commerce. The longtime congestion that is costing billions of dollars to business and consumers must be solved to gain the full benefits from USMCA.

As the co-chair of the Trade Policy Working Group of the U.S.-Mexico CEO Dialogue, I will be working with my Mexican counterpart, Moises Kalach, to ensure we keep pushing our respective governments to put in place a system that can handle increased trade at our ports of entry. That means more staffing, facility enhancements, technology upgrades and a commitment to reducing bridge wait times.

Many people from different countries, different backgrounds and different parties came together for the ratification of USMCA. With the same unity of purpose and mutual understanding, we can address these challenges, capitalize on the benefits afforded by USMCA, and continue to enjoy the prosperity afforded by free trade to Texas, the United States and our North American neighbors.

Dennis E. Nixon is CEO of International Bank of Commerce in Laredo and chairman of the board of International Bancshares Corp.

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