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Sixth Annual Building a Competitive US-Mexico Border Conference

The Wilson Center's Mexico Institute and the Border Trade Alliance held the sixth annual high-level "Building a Competitive US-Mexico Border" conference, which focused on improving border management in order to strengthen the competitiveness of both the United States and Mexico.

Date & Time

Jun. 20, 2019
8:30am – 4:40pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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The Wilson Center's Mexico Institute and the Border Trade Alliance held the sixth annual high-level "Building a Competitive US-Mexico Border" conference, which focused on improving border management in order to strengthen the competitiveness of both the United States and Mexico. Topics covered at the conference included USMCA (the renegotiated NAFTA), strengthening security and efficiency at border ports of entry, the impact of tariffs and reduced staffing on trade, and growing crossborder cooperation for regional economic development.

Selected Quotes

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)

“I’ve long believed in the importance of the strong trading relationship with our southern neighbor, because I know of its positive impact on our state, but also on the nation. NAFTA and our trading relationship in North America with Canada and Mexico is credited with supporting about 5 million American jobs, just the binational trade with Mexico. Another 8 million in binational trade with Canada. ”

“The [International Trade Commission] concluded that within six years of going into effect, the USMCA will raise US Gross Domestic Product by $68 billion, and lead to the creation of 176,000 new jobs... That’s great news for American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses that will reap the benefits of this agreement. ”

“Both the USMCA, and more effective and efficient ports, are critical to maintaining a competitive and smart border. But without action to get to the bottom of what has led to many of these challenges, we’ll continue to find ourselves in a battle of wills, and a battle of physical versus economic security. My point is here today that we don’t have to pick between those. We can have both and we need to focus on both physical and economic security.”

“It’s not a zero-sum game. By making targeted reforms, we can address the flow of migrants coming across the border without compromising our economic security.”

Governor Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona

“We’ve got a $16.6 billion trade footprint between Arizona and Mexico. It’s up 7.7 percent [from the] previous year…. This is astronomical growth.”

“As a border governor, public safety is something I wake up with every morning and am concerned about. So we’ve worked closely now with our federal government, so we’ve got the joint cooperation between Customs and Border Patrol…and then local law enforcement in these border towns.”

"Our nonprofits and faith-based community are overwhelmed, and at the breaking point. We are not only cooperating on the public safety side, but also having cooperation and communication on the humanitarian side…And again, we need to call on our Congress for some of the action here. This has been lingering for some time and there’s enough blame to go around.”

“The fact that we have Canada and Mexico as our neighbors is an incredible asset. These are our friends, our trading partners and our allies. And I think that we need to continue to communicate that.”

Ambassador Martha Bárcena, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States

“One of the main setbacks that we have faced in defining a lasting vision of our border is that it tends to be analyzed under a narrow perspective, or in specific problems, and that prevents us from understanding the border as a whole.”

“Yes, the border is a customs and immigration checkpoint. But it is way more than that. At different times, the border is a marker of national identities; a site of transport or trade; a home to binational, bicultural, and bilingual communities; and also a symbol of our economic stature as a region. Together, the ten border states, if they were a separate nation, would constitute the world’s fourth largest economy.”

“When we talk about the border, we are also talking about us—people. We are talking about people that move, invest, shop and socialize across a boundary line….We are talking about thousands of people who cross the border every single day in both directions to work, conduct business, attend school, or get medical treatment.”

“It is up to us to define our approach towards the border…and to define our approach towards a border and to our bilateral relationship at large, not by the challenges that we face, but by the prosperity and opportunities that we can create together.”

Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX)

“We understand party loyalty. But at the same time, the loyalty that we should adhere to is the country, and the best interests of the district that we represent. There are situations…when some of my party want open borders, or other folks on the other side want to militarize the border. It’s wrong. The best thing to do is to listen to the folks who do this on a day-to-day basis.”

“The profile of the individuals coming in has changed drastically. In 2006…90 percent of the people coming in were Mexicanos. Within hours, 95 percent of the people would be returned. Now, 73 plus [percent] are Central Americans and others. It’s not a Mexican problem, as the President puts it. It’s other folks coming in. Now 97 percent of the people who come in stay…Then, in 2006, 10 percent of the people coming in were unaccompanied kids from family units. Now it’s over 61 percent that are family and unaccompanied kids.”

John P. Wagner

“We recognize that delicate balancing act that defines CBP’s duty: protect the border and enforce the laws while facilitating lawful trade and travel. You know, it’s a dual mission. They are not opposed. They work in conjunction with each other. To that end, we’re determined to manage this border security crisis, which, it’s a humanitarian crisis, as best we can while ensuring the border remains open.”

“We challenge ourselves. What can we do next with this? And, really, this has the potential to transform how we do cargo processing on the border. Our vision is to really build these drive-through systems where if a truck drives through, we can have a high-energy and low-energy system operating at the same time. So we use low-energy on the cab when the driver is in there and the high-energy on the cargo…Not only could we potentially scan 100% of the trucks coming in, we could do it really quick, so that the trucks might not have to stop, or might not have to stop for very long, to do that.”

“We look at all the things happening in the consumer world today—the Internet, artificial intelligence, robotics, predictive analytics, innovations on the horizon—we want to incorporate these into how the government does business, too. We want do to that in partnership with all of you.”

Representative Will Hurd (R-TX)

“I always tell people the President’s not my boss, the head of my party’s not my boss, the minority leader is not my boss – it’s the 800,000 people that I represent.”

“I wish there was a rule where you can’t talk about the border unless you’ve been to the border. That would make things a lot easier.”

“We have to make sure we’re explaining to [the public] how ultimately this is going to impact them. And so, I take the perspective of, what is the American consumer going to see and how is it going to impact them?”

Britton Clarke

“We’re at a critical juncture. We’ve been talking about it all day. We are all obviously seeking the modernization of our trilateral trade agreement. We will remain focused. We will remain engaged. And hopefully get this agreement done this year.”


8:30-9:00am Welcome & Opening Address
Welcome Remarks
Christopher Wilson, Deputy Director, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center

Strengthening Competitiveness & Security at the Border
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)

9:00-9:25am On the Ground at the Border
Governor Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona
A discussion with Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne, Co-Chair of the Mexico Institute Advisory Board and Former US Ambassador to Mexico

9:25-10:20am Policymakers Panel: Pragmatic Policymaking for Border Region Residents and the Nation
Representative Will Hurd (R-TX 23)
Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX 28)
Moderator: Duncan Wood, Director, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center

10:20-10:30am  Coffee Break

10:35-11:15am A Vision for the US-Mexico Border
Ambassador Martha Bárcena, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States
Introduction: Christopher Wilson, Deputy Director, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center

11:15-12:15pm 21st Century Management at our Ports of Entry
Gustavo de la Fuente, Executive Director, Smart Border Coalition
Jorge Alvarez Tovar, Minister Representative of the Ministry of Finance in Washington DC
Allen Gina, Partner and Co-Founder, CT-Strategies
Pat Ottensmeyer, President and CEO, The Kansas City Southern Railway Company
Moderator:Paola Avila, Chair, Border Trade Alliance, Vice President, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce

12:30-1:45pm Luncheon: From NAFTA to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) - 6th Floor Dining Room
Tim Pataki, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Public Liaison, The White House Office, Executive Office of the President
Introduction: Britton Clarke, President, Border Trade Alliance

1:50-2:55pm Slowdowns, Tariffs, and the USMCA: Growing Cross-Border Trade in a Dynamic Environment
Lance Jungmeyer, President, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas
Sergio Gomez Lora, CEO, Business Coordinating Council (CCE) Representation to the US
Linda Dempsey, Vice President, International Economic Affairs Policy, National Association of Manufacturers
Gerry Schwebel, Executive Vice President, IBC Bank
Moderator: Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne, Co-Chair, Mexico Institute Advisory Board, Former US Ambassador to Mexico

3:00-3:40pm Building a Safe and Efficient Border
John P. Wagner, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Introduction: Paola Avila, Chair, Border Trade Alliance; Vice President, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce

3:40-4:30pm From Risk to Asset: Economic Development in the US-Mexico Border Region
Mario Lozoya, Executive Director, Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation
Jon Barela, CEO, The Borderplex Alliance
Federico Schaffler, Director, Texas Center for Border Economic Enterprise Development, Texas A&M International University
Moderator:Christopher Wilson, Deputy Director, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center

4:30-4:40pm Closing Remarks
Britton Clarke, President, Border Trade Alliance
Christopher Wilson, Deputy Director, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center


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Hosted By

Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more

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