A Unified Cargo Processing Program at the airport would speed e-commerce with Mexico.

Courtesy Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority

MESA — As trade between the U.S, Mexico and Canada is debated in Mexico City as part of NAFTA negotiations, one Arizona city is working on a long-term, million-dollar project that would potentially increase direct trade with Mexico.

The Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority Board will vote Tuesday, Nov. 21, on a master development agreement with the company Mesa Skybridge for an infrastructure project at the airport.

The project, otherwise known as the Unified Cargo Processing Program and recently created by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, if approved, would include a program to facilitate cargo processing for Mexico by bringing Mexican customs officials to the airport.

“It has the potential to be the most significant source of commerce between Mesa and Mexico,” Mesa Mayor John Giles said.

Giles added that the premise of the project is to build an e-commerce distribution center at the airport and seize the opportunities of a growing industry in Mexico.

Last year, e-commerce produced around $17.63 billion in Mexico, according to a report by the Mexican Internet Association. According to the same report, two out of three Mexican online buyers shopped from international retailers in 2016, and the No. 1 market was the U.S.

“The consumers in Mexico would receive the same delivery schedules that consumers in the U.S. have,” Giles said.

If the project is approved, Mesa Skybridge would move forward with the application to bring the Unified Cargo Processing Program to the airport, according to Ryan Smith, the airport’s director of communications and government relations.

Specifically in terms of NAFTA, Mexican officials have recognized the 23-year-old agreement needs to be updated to consider new business transactions such as e-commerce, but the three involved countries could not come to an agreement during the previous rounds when the U.S. suggested it wanted to raise the current dollar limit of products that can be exported with no tariffs.

“All of the mayors of cities in Arizona and the governor, we’re all very concerned about the NAFTA negotiations because trade with Mexico is very important to every city in Arizona,” Giles said.

“This opportunity for e-commerce is just the latest example of why our relationship with Mexico is important for Arizona,” he added.

Just last year, census data show exports to Mexico reached $8.3 billion, while imports accounted for $7.4 billion. According to a report by the Atlantic Council, 37 percent of Arizona’s total international trade is with Mexico.

The fifth round of NAFTA talks began Wednesday in Mexico City. Negotiators are expected to continue to discuss topics that are already on the table.

“If we have good trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico — that’s good for the Arizona economy and for the Mesa economy,” Giles said. “We’ll have more jobs and a busier airport if we have a strong NAFTA agreement.”