Dallas News.- As the Trump administration’s trade policies continue to take shape, two Texas politicians on opposite sides of the aisle visited Laredo on Wednesday to continue making the case that the North American Free Trade Agreement helps both the U.S. and Mexico.
Sen. John Cornyn, the state’s senior Republican, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, met with Mayor Pete Saenz and business leaders in the area to see how the 23-year-old pact among the U.S., Mexico and Canada is affecting South Texas.
Trump’s restrained approach on NAFTA since he’s taken office, a stark contrast to his critical rhetoric about the trade deal during the campaign, has relieved free trade supporters in Texas. Cornyn and Cuellar are no exception.
“I’ve been encouraged by the language, by the rhetoric and by the actions that are being taken so far,” Cornyn said.
Even in the months immediately after the election, Cuellar assured government officials in Mexico that a couple of factors should mitigate any concerns they held about the future of trade.
For one, Cuellar predicted the Cabinet officials Trump brought in would moderate his stance on the issue, and Cuellar has been encouraged that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross looks to be doing just that. For another, Cuellar reminded the Mexicans that Congress would continue to play a key role on trade and they would serve as a “moderating force.”
Now, Cuellar’s lack of concern is being vindicated.
“I feel a lot more confident,” he said, pointing to a draft letter that the White House has circulated to potentially seek congressional approval for renegotiating aspects of NAFTA.
The proposal could have a “very similar” positive impact on U.S.-Mexico trade as the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have, Cuellar said, referring to the 12-nation trade deal he and Cornyn supported before Trump abandoned it in January.
Although NAFTA became a punching bag for Trump on the campaign trail, Cornyn never stopped repeating that he believes trade is “not a dirty word,” despite his support for the GOP candidate. Now that Trump’s in office, he appears to be gradually coming around to Cornyn’s view that NAFTA needs to be improved, not scrapped.
As negotiations move forward, Cornyn said, free trade supporters have a responsibility to “educate friends and colleagues” to guard against those who “mislead” them into thinking that all of their problems are attributable to trade.
If the U.S. looks to restrict trade, Cuellar warned, partnering countries will just look to other markets and competitors will take advantage. Several governors of Mexican states, he noted, recently traveled to China.
“If we don’t take the leadership on trade, somebody else is going to do it,” Cuellar said. “We’ve got to understand that the world doesn’t stop just because we decide to say ‘stop.’”
Cornyn and Cuellar held a roundtable with Olivia Varela, executive director of the Laredo Development Foundation; Miguel Conchas, president of the Laredo Chamber of Commerce; and Eduardo Garza, owner of Uni-Trade Forwarding, before touring the Uni-Trade warehouse.
Laredo features the largest inland port in the U.S., with more than half of all trade between the U.S. and Mexico traveling through the South Texas city last year — over $525.1 billion in exports and imports.
In another indication of his appreciation of Mexico’s impact on Texas, Cornyn launched a Spanish-language website Wednesday, the first member of the Texas congressional delegation to do so.
Longtime friends, Cornyn and Cuellar have often praised each other as the types of legislators they enjoy working with from the other party. When Cornyn called in to a bipartisan road trip last month featuring Reps. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, he said he would pick Cuellar as his car mate if he were to go on his own road trip.
As of now, the Texans have no plans to make the 1,700-mile return trip from Laredo to Washington by car. But bipartisan love was in the air nonetheless Wednesday.
“I couldn’t have a better partner than my friend Henry Cuellar,” Cornyn said.