February 23, 2018

Udall Discusses NAFTA, Economic Issues at Border Industrial Association Meeting

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall met with the Border Industrial Association to discuss New Mexico's important trade relationship with Mexico and the ongoing negotiations over NAFTA, as well as other border-related priorities, including increasing investment at New Mexico’s land ports of entry and President Trump’s push to build a border wall. The Border Industrial Association consists of more than 100 members who employ thousands of people in the Santa Teresa industrial region.

"International trade continues to be a bright spot in New Mexico’s economy. And the success that you are experiencing here along the border is tremendous…. You are all part of this growth and progress. And the federal government should be doing everything it can to support this growth – and help bring more well-paying jobs right here," Udall said in his remarks.

"I know many of you are worried about the administration’s position on NAFTA… I will continue to fight for a NAFTA agreement that works for New Mexico and the rest of the country. I will also fight any effort by President Trump to unilaterally exit this important trade agreement," Udall said. "We need better ports of entry. Not walls. A wall does nothing to improve our relations with Mexico, and does a lot to threaten them…. We need to build and rebuild roads, bridges, train tracks, light rail, schools. We need to bring high speed internet to our rural areas. Those projects bring work and jobs. Billions of dollars for a wall that won’t work is a boondoggle."

The meeting comes as the seventh round of NAFTA talks is scheduled to begin in Mexico City on Feb. 25. Trump has continued to threaten to withdraw the United States from the important but flawed trade agreement. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier today, Trump again called it “no good.” Udall, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has worked to ensure the voices of New Mexico’s workers, small businesses and employers are heard in Washington as talks continue. Friday’s meeting was follow up to a panel discussion Udall convened in Santa Teresa last year.

Udall's remarks as prepared are below:

Welcome everyone. It’s always good to be here. Thank you, Jerry and Gilbert for inviting me today and your outstanding work.

International trade continues to be a bright spot in New Mexico’s economy. And the success that you are experiencing here along the border is tremendous. Over the last 10 years, exports have grown from $375 million dollars in 2007 to almost $1.6 billion dollars in 2017. Overall, New Mexico exporters produce over $3.6 billion dollars in revenue, create 15,000 jobs, and support 1,400 businesses. The vast majority of those are small- and medium-sized businesses.

You are all part of this growth and progress. And the federal government should be doing everything it can to support this growth – and help bring more well-paying jobs right here.

As a member of the Commerce Committee and the Appropriations Committee I am listening to what you need. And I’m fighting for those policies in Washington, D.C.

For example, we made big improvements to the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in 2010. That has been an important step forward here in this area. And in Luna County, the Columbus Port of Entry expansion will have a real and significant impact on border crossings.

Both of these projects were possible because you had vision and clearly identified how the congressional delegation could help.

Today, I’d like to bring you up to date with what’s going in Washington. And then we’ll have time for questions. I want to hear from you about your successes, your concerns, and your needs.

I know many of you are worried about the administration’s position on NAFTA. NAFTA has been instrumental in helping spur New Mexico’s exports to Mexico. Our state has a huge trade surplus with our neighbor. We export almost three times as much as we import. And that is true for our state as a whole. New Mexico has a big trade surplus.

Nationally, there is general consensus that the 25-year-old agreement needs to be updated.

In the last quarter century, we have seen major societal changes – the beginning of the digital age, greater globalization, and huge changes in how we communicate and conduct business.

We also have seen major environmental changes like global warming, which threatens everyone on earth. Mexico has also opened up its energy sector for private investment.

NAFTA should be updated, but it must include strong protections for labor and the environment, and we must take innovative steps to address job dislocation that results from trade agreements. But tearing up NAFTA is not the answer.

Even if the president wants to withdraw from our international partnerships and commitments – as he has threatened to do – he can’t do it alone. He does not have the power to repeal laws. That requires congressional approval.

The president’s rhetoric is not helpful. It creates uncertainty that is bad for the economy. And it’s bad for entrepreneurs looking for the best time to start or expand a business.

The pros and cons of trade agreements generally – and of NAFTA in particular – are quite complex. All of you here appreciate that. Policy on NAFTA should not be reduced to sound bites.

For example: Over the years, NAFTA has created a highly integrated regional supply chain. It is focused right here in southern New Mexico. Many products go back and forth over their production cycle. And a small increase in tariffs—in the cost of a good to cross the border—can cause a much larger rise in the final price. And make it uncompetitive.

We don’t want NAFTA negotiations to produce unintended consequences. We want the administration to understand the complexities.

We want to work toward an agreement that offers the most benefits for our country. And, here in New Mexico, we don’t want the president to derail our growth and success.

So much is going on here. Just to name a few: the BIA; an innovative binational pre-clearance program; public-private partnership agreements at the Port of Entry; Santa Teresa’s expanding International Jetport; Union Pacific; Fedex; and many other important small- and medium-sized businesses.

We don’t want our trade gains jeopardized.

I will continue to fight for a NAFTA agreement that works for New Mexico and the rest of the country. I will also fight any effort by President Trump to unilaterally exit this important trade agreement.

The administration’s immigration and border security proposals also pose serious problems for Southern New Mexico.

I was extremely disappointed by the debate in the Senate last week. When President Trump announced he would be ending the DACA program on March 5, he caused chaos for 700,000 young people across the country – including 7,000 here in New Mexico.

I have talked to many of these young people. The United States is the only home they know. Virtually all of them are in school, have jobs, or serve in the military. These kids are success stories. They are American through and through, and they deserve to stay.

The president’s termination of DACA is not only wrong and heartless, it’s bad for the economy. New Mexico would lose 6,000 jobs and take a $385 million dollar hit we simply can’t afford.

The president initially said he wanted to show DREAMers “great heart.”

But then he changed his mind and insisted on tying DACA to funding for the wall. And he proposed a deal that would prevent DREAMers from helping their parents receive legal status. He also wanted to drastically change family reunification policies and terminate the visa lottery program.

The president’s position is the least popular around the country. The bill he backed in the Senate received the fewest votes last week. But the two bipartisan bills also failed to get 60 votes, although more narrowly.

I supported the bipartisan bill giving DREAMers legal protection, but I voted against a proposal that would have wasted $25 billion dollars to build a border wall.

We need better ports of entry. Not walls. A wall does nothing to improve our relations with Mexico, and does a lot to threaten them. I am concerned that worsened relations would spill over to trade – through chilled relationships, trade wars, or boycotts – and hurt New Mexico’s position.

I believe all of our border residents should feel safe. But ask border patrol agents in the Bootheel whether they want a wall. They will tell you they want horses and ATVs to help secure the border.

A wall simply isn’t feasible in parts of the border. I don’t believe in wasting huge amounts of taxpayer dollars for border security that is not effective.

Jerry wrote an interesting article last month on the wall. He discussed the opportunity costs of building a wall while foregoing other infrastructure projects. He calculated that we could build 7,200 miles of roads in rural areas for $18 billion dollars.

We need to build and rebuild roads, bridges, train tracks, light rail, schools. We need to bring high speed internet to our rural areas. Those projects bring work and jobs. Billions of dollars for a wall that won’t work is a boondoggle.

The Senate will be back in session on Monday. I will continue to work as hard as I can to give DREAMers relief and to try to head off measures that would hurt our relations with Mexico.

Thank you again, it is always a pleasure to be here and see what you all are doing for your community and our state. I appreciate your hard and productive work.