Congressional panel in Tucson explores Mexico trade

2013-12-10T00:00:00Z Congressional panel in Tucson explores Mexico tradeBy Gabriela Rico Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

More officers at Arizona’s ports of entry, longer hours of operation, lease-back partnerships with private investors and toll roads.

All of those ideas were entertained Monday during a congressional hearing on improving the flow of trade between Mexico and the United States.

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, led the field hearing in Tucson.

He said the increase in shared production between the two countries makes the smooth flow of goods critical to Arizona and the U.S. economy.

Because of shared production, 40 percent of products manufactured or assembled in Mexico go to U.S. companies, Salmon noted. That’s compared with 4 percent for items made in China.

“We need to make North America self-sufficient,” Salmon said. “Trade is not a partisan issue.”

Reps. Ron Barber and Kyrsten Sinema, both Arizona Democrats, and Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., joined New Jersey Democratic Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., to hear more than two hours of testimony from a panel of experts.

Sires said the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is the “most taken-for-granted and least appreciated in foreign policy.”

He said his aim was to find a way to resolve “tension between border security and trade facilitation.”

All acknowledged that next year’s anticipated opening of the Mariposa Port of Entry at the Nogales border presents both a competitive opportunity and a deadline for Arizona.

“We need to be ready for the increase in commercial traffic,” Barber said. The larger land port and the massive expansion of the seaport in Guaymas, Sonora, could benefit Arizona or neighboring states, depending on who gets ready first.

Unless the Arizona ports are fully staffed, “we’ll never get the job done,” Barber said.

Panel members made several suggestions to keep Arizona competitive, from the obvious to the novel.

There was consensus that more officers processing commercial trucks and longer hours of operation are needed.

But subcommittee members also entertained the idea of lease-back programs, under which the federal government pays a private investor to maintain a federal facility while the government still runs the operation.

Timothy Hutchens, executive vice president and head of the Federal Lessor Advisory Group for CBRE Inc., said the concept of a private landlord for government infrastructure projects allows the government to focus on its mission, versus maintenance and upkeep of the facility.

Charging a toll for roads that lead to the ports would be welcome by companies doing cross-border business that lose money when lines are long.

“People are willing to pay,” agreed Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society.

“A truck sitting in line costs $125 an hour,” he said, noting that a company would be glad to pay $25 to get through the crossing in 15 minutes.

“It’s pure economics,”

Farnsworth said.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Salmon asked the panel to send follow-up information regarding the public-private cooperation on government projects.

“The appetite is pretty voracious for something like that,” he said.

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