December 9, 2013
Tucson News Now
Barbara Grijalva

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Take a look at Interstate 19, a road that carries billions of dollars in goods, services and tourism from Mexico to Tucson.

It's an economic engine that means millions of jobs in this country.

However, it's believed those billions of dollars could be much greater if Congress would address hurdles impeding trade at the border.

That was the focus of a U.S. House subcommittee hearing in Tucson Monday.

The panel heard testimony from representatives of business, government and think tanks.

One important topic was on healing the rift between Arizona and it's top trading partner, Mexico, in the wake of such things as Arizona's immigration enforcement law, SB 1070.

"I think the most important thing we wanted to get out of today was to send a strong message to Mexico that Arizona wants to do business with Mexico. We want to improve our relationship," says Arizona Republican Congressman Matt Salmon, Chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The reasons are simple.  An important one is commerce.

One-third of Arizona's exports go to Mexico, more than $6 billion worth every year.

Then there's tourism, especially coming from Mexico to Tucson.

"About 30% of the revenues at our major malls comes from people who live in Mexico, coming here to buy things and to stay in our hotels and all the rest. It could be even bigger if we could expedite traffic coming across the border," says Arizona Democratic Congressman Ron Barber who sits on the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and who was invited to participate on the hearing panel.

That was a focus Monday. The long delays, not only for tourists, but for cargo coming from Mexico to the United States.

We heard that some 6 million jobs in the U.S. depend on that commerce.

"Additional business incentives, the removal of impediments and identification of resources and tools are necessary to build export opportunity for our business community," testified Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lea Marquez Peterson.

The panel heard how long, unpredictable waits at the border often send commerce through other states, rather than Arizona.

For those who do still cross the border at Arizona, the waits raise costs for manufacturers and hurt their competitiveness.

"The manufacturing sectors of our two countries have become deeply integrated and, as a result, materials and parts often flow back and forth across the border multiple times as goods are manufactured," testified Christopher Wilson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Mexico Institute.  "These costs, which amount to a border tax, eat away at the competitiveness of these goods and provide an inadvertent boost to the relative competitiveness of manufacturers outside of our North American region."

"We've got to make that flow of commerce between our nations as seamless and reasonable, while protecting as we possibly can. And they are not mutually exclusive," says Congressman Salmon.

There seemed to be consensus that ports of entry, such as at Nogales and Douglas, need to be improved and get additional staffing.

There were ideas about forming public/private partnerships.

Congressman Salmon says he expects bipartisan legislation to come out of Monday's hearing.

To read more testimony from Monday's hearing, click here.

Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema also was part of the House panel on Monday.

Her office issued this statement after the hearing:

Today, Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema joined Congressman Matt Salmon (AZ-5), Congressman Ron Barber (AZ-2), Congressman David Schweikert (AZ-6), and Congressman Albio Sires (NJ-8) at a field hearing promoting best practices in U.S.-Mexico trade.  The hearing of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere examined ways to improve security and facilitate commerce with Mexico at America's southern border.

"Cross-border trade with Mexico is essential to Arizona's economy. Yet despite the importance of cross-border trade, many hurdles prevent efficient and cost-effective movement of goods and services," said Rep. Sinema.

"I support efforts to promote efficient commercial trade flows, but not at the expense of border security or Arizona jobs. We need to explore new ways to facilitate trade, while protecting Arizona producers and the jobs they create. I will continue to work to protect Arizona jobs and move Arizona's economy forward."

Mexico is Arizona's largest export market. In 2012, $6.29 billion in Arizona exports, over 30 percent of all Arizona exports, went to Mexico."

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