|BROWNSVILLE, December 6 - An official with the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the message from Upper Rio Grande Valley stakeholders was loud and clear – infrastructure at border ports of entry is woefully inadequate.
Ana Luisa Fajer Flores, director general for North American Affairs, met privately with Upper Valley economic development, city, and bridge officials at the Mexican Consulate’s office in McAllen on Thursday. On Friday, Fajer Flores spoke at the Binational Economic Development Zone Summit at UT-Brownsville.
“We had a very productive meeting in McAllen. It was a real eye opener. The complaints of the stakeholders have been made public, that it is incredible the infrastructure we have, the waiting times, the saturation of the ports, the lack of quality of life when people are waiting in those immense lines. They do not have the basics, they do not have restrooms. We have to act in this regards,” Fajer Flores told the Guardian, after speech at UTB.
“They stakeholders were very clear, they need an efficient border. Their point is that it is just incredible that we have these challenges, here in the 21st Century. We are trading $1.3 billion dollars every single day and yet we have these infrastructure challenges. It does not make sense. We definitely need a more efficient border. We have a huge challenge.”
Asked if most of the responsibility for improving efficiencies at border ports of entries was down to the U.S. government, said “no,” that it was a shared responsibility with Mexico.
“We are so linked and integrated today that everything is a shared responsibility. We have to do our homework. But we do have the mechanisms in place. We have the 21St Century Border Executive Bilateral Committee. We work and analyze the projects.”
21St Century Border Executive Bilateral Committee was set up by the U.S. and Mexican federal governments. Fajer Flores said the committee has asked the North American Development Bank to assist with mapping the ports of entry so that projects can be prioritized through a holistic approach.
In her interview with the Guardian, Fajer Flores referenced the State of the Border Report published earlier this year by the Woodrow Wilson Center. Chris Wilson, one of the authors of the 174-page document, also spoke at the Binational Economic Development Zone Summit.
The State of the Border Report pointed out that well over a billion dollars’ worth of goods cross the border each day. It stated that “long and unpredictable wait times at the border ports of entry are costing the United States and Mexican economies many billions of dollars each year.” It also said that trusted traveler and shipper programs, such as SENTRI, FAST, and C-TPAT, allow vetted, low-risk individuals and shipments expedited passage across the border. “Improving these programs and significantly expanding enrollment could increase border efficiency with minimal investments in infrastructure and staffing—all while strengthening security by giving border officials more time to focus on unknown and potentially dangerous individuals and shipments,” the report stated.
A common complaint from border leaders over the years has been that both Washington, D.C., and Mexico City fail to understand the challenges faced on the border and often times ignore its needs. Fajer Flores said she is very much aware of the needs and is working on recommendations from working groups.
“The border is central for both countries. It is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. If you combine the four border states in the United States and the six border states in Mexico, it is the fourth largest economy in the world. Mexico and the U.S., trade almost one million dollars every minute. That is the dynamism of the border. We have to better understand the border because we are sometimes too far from the border. We have to come here to see the border, to feel it and then we can move forward in making decisions,” Fajer Flores said.
Fajer Flores said the border region needs to become more competitive in order to compete with Asia. That means ports of entry need to be more efficient, security has to be improved and the knowledge base of the region has to be expanded.
“We have to promote education and innovation. We have to go beyond a non-skilled labor force or a cheap labor force. We have to design things, not just manufacture things, we need to innovate together in order to move forward. We have to combine this with a low-cost manufacturing base. Mexico is in a different position today. We are graduating engineers from our universities. There is a rising middle class in Mexico. We have good momentum. We have to take advantage of that,” Fajer Flores said.
NAFTA did a great job but now the U.S., Mexico and Canada needs something else, Fajer Flores argued.
“We need innovation, education, mobility between the two countries. We need more research and bi-national laboratories. The border is no longer stiff lines that divide countries. It is about flows, flows of goods, flows of people, flows of ideas and stories. We need dialogue, we need ideas, but we need actions as well,” Fajer Flores said.
Fajer Flores concluded her observations by praising the “amazingly talented and hardworking people” of the border. “When you come here and listen to the stakeholders, you have a sense of what is needed here. They have vision. We are trying to do that by organizing these binational workshops with the purpose not of talking, talking, talking, which as governments we are usually good at, but we really want to listen as to what the needs are,” she said.
Fajer Flores pointed to an infrastructure workshop held in Tijuana that looked at the issue from an integral perspective, not a regional perspective. It was timed to take advantage of the North American Competitiveness and Innovation Conference being held at the same time in San Diego. “We need more of that, by taking a holistic approach, not by patronizing but by listening to the stakeholders. So, we have conclusions, we have recommendations, and we have to pay attention to those recommendations.”
Fajer Flores said similar workshops will be held. “We will probably have a workshop in Laredo that focuses on competitiveness. We will hold others that focus on sustainability and quality of life. From these we want punctual and precise recommendations.”