U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texan and second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, toured the World Trade Bridge on Thursday — the latest official to make an example of Laredo as an important hub for international trade.
His visit served to highlight the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act, which he co-authored with U.S. Rep Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. The bill passed through Congress Dec. 6 and is now awaiting President Obama’s signature. Cuellar said this was the fastest bill he has ever worked on.
The legislation will enable private companies and local governments to donate money or resources to Customs and Border Protection’s ports of entry. This generally means that CBP will be able to facilitate trade more quickly through infrastructure improvements and increased staffing.
For Laredo, the passage of this bill would allow a public-private partnership to fund fast lanes at the World Trade Bridge that would connect directly to Interstate 35. City Manager Jesus Olivares said in November that the city is applying for a federal grant with the Department of Transportation to fund this project. He also said it would cost $6-$8 million out of the city’s pocket, “right off the bat.” The goal is simply to get more trucks crossing through Laredo.
“The more traffic, the more tolls we collect,” Olivares said.
The grand tour
Cornyn was joined Thursday by Cuellar, Olivares, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, Mayor Pete Saenz, Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina and other city and county officials for a tour of the World Trade Bridge. The officials met privately with local stakeholders such as customs brokers and forwarding agents before the tour.
Yvette Limon, acting bridge director for the city, led Cornyn and the representatives across the road lanes as she explained the daily process at the port. After she informed the group of toll prices, Cornyn quipped, “That’s pretty cheap!”
The senator also spent a few minutes inside a toll booth to get a lay of the land as trucks breezed by.
In a news conference, Cornyn alluded to President-elect Trump’s promise to dismantle NAFTA and build a “big, beautiful” border wall.
“I know of no one that thinks security is a bad idea — everyone understands that security is a prerequisite to everything else. But we also have to talk in the same terms about the importance of our ports of entry and trade,” Cornyn said.
The Texas Tribune recently reported that these lawmakers were in a rush to get the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act in front of Obama before he leaves office. But when asked Thursday, they said that’s just how the timing worked out after the bill passed through Congress.
Cornyn also said the federal government has not been able to invest properly in international ports of entry run by CBP.
“This is really something most people cannot imagine: the flow of commerce and trade across the international border here in Laredo, Texas,” Cornyn said. “As we all know, the federal government hasn’t kept up with its investment in either the infrastructure or the staffing that’s so important to keeping that flow of trade going ...”
In his introduction, Saenz touted new numbers by the Texas Comptroller’s Office: namely that Laredo’s five border crossings accounted for $204 billion of international trade in Texas in 2015.
Hurd, whose district contains nine ports of entry from Eagle Pass to El Paso, said even though this bill seems like a no-brainer for those who work on the border, it almost didn’t happen.
“In steps Senator Cornyn, in steps Henry Cuellar, and we were able to get this done,” he said.
The Congressional Budget Office concluded that enacting this legislation would not affect federal revenues or deficits in the next 50 years.
Julia Wallace may be reached at email@example.com
El senador de Estados Unidos por Texas, John Cornyn, segundo republicano de mayor rango en el Senado, visitó el Puente Internacional del Comercio Mundial el jueves. Cornyn representa la visita más reciente de un funcionario para poner a Laredo como ejemplo de centro importante para el comercio internacional.
Su visita sirvió para resaltar la Ley de Mejora del Comercio Transfronterizo, que recientemente escribió con el Congresista Henry Cuellar.
El proyecto de ley pasó por el Congreso el 6 de diciembre y ahora está a la espera de la firma del Presidente Obama. Cuellar dijo que este ha sido el proyecto de ley más rápido en el que ha trabajado.
La legislación permitirá a empresas privadas y gobiernos locales donar dinero o recursos a los puertos de entrada de Aduanas y Protección Fronteriza. Esto significa que CBP será capaz de agilizar el comercio a través de mejoras en infraestructura y aumento de personal.
La aprobación de este proyecto de ley permitiría una asociación público-privada para financiar carriles rápidos en el Puente del Comercio Mundial que se conectarían directamente a la carretera interestatal 35.
En noviembre, el administrador de la ciudad Jesús Olivares, dijo que la Ciudad de Laredo está solicitando un subsidio federal del Departamento de Transporte para financiar este proyecto.
Olivares también mencionó que el proyecto costaría entre seis y ocho millones de dólares del bolsillo de la ciudad. El objetivo es simplemente conseguir que más camiones cruzen la frontera a través de Laredo.