Seven years after its signing, the North American Free Trade Agreement has had a profound impact on the United States, Mexico and Canada, a group of panelists said Wednesday during the U.S.-Mexico Border Summit at The University of Texas-Pan American.
The two-hour session, "Business Roundtable: Seven Years After NAFTA," was moderated by R. David Guerra, InterNational Bank of Commerce president. It began with Dr. Stephen Flynn of the Council of Foreign Relations praising the Summit as a way to build binational relationships and carry on dialogue to bring about necessary changes.
Indeed, access to international and overseas markets will be the key to future prosperity for both countries, Flynn said. To accomplish this, transportation and logistical systems must be seamless, and there has to be proper control and security measures in place.
Nonetheless, Mexico and the United States already are strong trading partners, said John W. Johnson, Texas Department of Transportation commissioner, and Mexico will soon pass Canada as the country's top trading partner.
About 80 percent of U.S.-Mexico trade is by truck, with three-fourths of that trade going through Texas. The result is positive for local, state and national economies but negative in terms of congestion and safety.
"NAFTA has left an indelible mark on the state of Texas," Johnson said. "I don't think anyone back in 1993 or '94 knew the significant impact NAFTA would have today. ... The border should not be an impediment to trade. It must be made as efficient and effective as possible."
Sam Vale, Border Trade Alliance chairman of Strategic Planning, echoed Johnson's comments. He said NAFTA's primary purpose of lowering the cost of doing business in North America has been reached to a large extent. But, there is still not a political consensus among all parties at all levels.
"The country does not believe this is the only thing out there, and it must if we are to move forward," Vale said. "It's not about the border. It's about what's good for Texas and what's good for the United States, Mexico and Canada."
One way to move forward is with the proposed Interstate 69, which would connect Canada to Mexico through America's heartland.
John D. Caruthers Jr., I-69 Mid-Continent Highway Coalition president, said environmental studies are under way on the 2,000-mile interstate, with construction expected to take at least eight years. But, the Texas portion of I-69 alone is expected to run about $7.2 billion, and financial support is lacking.
"We're going to build this road," Caruthers said. "It will benefit all three countries, and hopefully, we'll be able to look back someday and be amazed at how we underestimated its effect."
The completion of I-69 would greatly benefit transit among the three countries, especially the United States and Mexico. Carlos Santos of Bancomext, a trade promotion organization, noted Mexico's economy is the 12th largest in the world, with exports to the United States growing from $50 billion in 1993 to $160 billion in 2000.
Other panelists included Daniel B. Hastings Jr., U.S. Customs broker from Laredo, who said Congress must provide more technology, personnel and infrastructure along the border; John Castany of Wells Manufacturing Corp. and Reynosa Asociacion de Maquiladoras, who said maquiladoras must keep their edge in the global competitive market through NAFTA; and Fernando Mejia, Mexican Custom Brokers Association president, who addressed Mexico's use of and relationships with the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo trade corridor.
The three-day U.S.-Mexico Border Summit, which ends Friday, is bringing together high-ranking officials from both countries, representatives of major national foundations and corporate leaders to examine international trade, energy, telecommunications, utility infrastructure corridor development, border manufacturing opportunities, water, housing and health issues.