SAN DIEGO (CN) – A coalition of mayors from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border signed a trade resolution Thursday, showing support for continued strong economic ties and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
More than a dozen mayors from around the Southwest border gathered for the 6th annual Binational Summit of the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Association, hosted by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Tijuana, Mexico, Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum. The region’s mayors signed a resolution pledging support for international trade and the renegotiation of NAFTA.
Faulconer and Gastelum have been on a tour of sorts, promoting trade and cooperation between their nations: they traveled to Mexico City and Washington earlier this year to advocate for policies that enable the border region’s growth and competitiveness in the global market.
“Border cities must work together and advocate for cooperation among our countries,” Faulconer said in a statement.
“We are calling on Washington to recognize the importance of trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada because the jobs of millions of Americans rely on these binational ties. San Diego and Tijuana have been leading the charge for years, and now border cities from across the U.S. and Mexico are joining us to urge federal authorities to support collaboration across international boundaries for the good of residents on both sides of the border.”
The meeting focused on the need for a “unified voice” of border cities to advocate for NAFTA changes which benefit the three countries involved.
The mayors heard from panelists who discussed trade and the need to modernize infrastructure at the border to improve wait times for crossing which could have a drastic monetary impact: the region misses out on more than $7 billion or 60,000 jobs annually because of inefficient border infrastructure, according to a study by the San Diego Association of Governments.
Some speakers didn’t shy away from criticizing President Donald Trump and his plan to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and how it could negatively impact trade.
“We are political piñatas. There is a target on each of our backs from Washington D.C. but if we have an alliance, it blunts it a little bit,” Jon Barela, CEO of The Borderplex Alliance, said.
He added: “I don’t care how tall the wall will be. Folks will always do the best they can to provide for their families.”
Barela advised the mayors to nationalize stories about their border cities, which include San Diego and El Paso – some of the safest cities in the United States. He said it’s a distinction which directly contradicts Trump’s rhetoric about border cities being unsafe.
“We’ve been demonized as being a lawless frontier. But El Paso is the safest city of its size, and we often compete with San Diego for that title,” Barela said.
NAFTA supports trade and jobs not just along the border, Barela said, but throughout the entire United States. He said states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio would take significant economic blows if NAFTA were eradicated.
“Mexico is the economic ally of the United States, not the thief of American jobs,” Barela said.
Noticeably absent from the meeting – and conversation on NAFTA – were any mayors from the U.S.-Canada border, who Border Trade Alliance board of directors chairman Russ Jones suggested should be part of the conversation.
“We should do a lot more in integrating those conversations on Canada. Perhaps at the next conference, invite your northern and Canadian colleagues,” Jones said.
Apart from trade and NAFTA, panelists also discussed border infrastructure and the need to modernize roads and ports of entry to facilitate more efficient movement of people and goods.
Experts from SANDAG, Caltrans and the Cross Border Xpress U.S.-Mexico airport crossing, or CBX, suggested border infrastructure needs to utilize better technology and coordination to cut down on wait times to cross, which sometimes creeps upwards of three hours.
They pointed to the CBX pedestrian bridge connecting San Diego to the Tijuana airport as an innovative approach to cutting through long wait times. The new border crossing – which costs $16 to cross – has also increased the number of flights to Tijuana from other Mexican cities by more than 30 percent, and presents a new opportunity to promote San Diego as a destination for Mexican tourists, CBX spokesman Luis Palacios said.
The panelists suggested a toll to cross the border, similar to that required to cross the CBX, could not only help cut down on border wait times to the goal of 20 minutes, but could raise funds for improving border infrastructure.
The conference continues Friday in Tijuana.