Opinion > Commentary South Texas Consortium will boost economy
Every day, millions of dollars in commerce cross our southern border. Trade in goods and services with Mexico totals more than $500 billion and is the lifeblood of the South Texas region, creating jobs and providing income to thousands of hardworking Americans. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than 450,000 jobs in Texas rely on trade with Mexico.
My hometown of Laredo, which is the largest inland port of entry in the United States and sixth largest U.S. Customs district, accounts for 45 percent of all trade with Mexico and more than $168 billion in imports and exports. In Laredo, between the World Trade Bridge and Columbia-Solidarity, about 12,000 commercial trucks cross the bridges each day. This is only 40 percent of the capacity of these bridges.
We live in a time of unprecedented budget cuts on the federal level. Sequestration has forced civilian employees at the Department of Defense to take unpaid leave, reduced services and improvements in our national parks, cut funding to early childhood education programs and slashed federal funding opportunities, among other adverse effects. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, which protects our border and mans all ports of entry for trade and tourism, has not been spared these cuts.
Outdated infrastructure and insufficient staff at ports of entry cause massive delays along our borders. Every minute, because of delays at the five busiest ports along the southern border, our economy loses $116 million in commerce and over 26,000 jobs. These delays are unacceptable and are a threat to the South Texas economy.
In response, I began working along with my congressional colleagues from South Texas, representatives from the ports of entry in our respective districts, stakeholders, and local governments to address this problem. Our solution was to form the South Texas Assets Consortium, a group of ports of entry across South Texas, including but not limited to, Laredo, Rio Grande City, Pharr, McAllen, and Cameron County. Jointly, the ports of entry applied as a consortium to be considered for a public-private partnership with CBP that would allow state and local governments to step in where the federal government has fallen short in funding.
On Aug. 2, CBP announced its selection of the South Texas Consortium as one of only five pilot programs across the country with which it will enter into public private partnerships. Four out of five of the programs are in Texas (South Texas, El Paso, Dallas, and Houston) and the other is in Miami. The South Texas Consortium is the only regional group selected by CBP.
The partnership will allow local and state governments and private entities to reimburse CBP for additional staffing along the border. The improvements that CBP will now be able to undertake will streamline security procedures, improve the flow of commerce, and allow us to test a new program that could be part of the cure to costly delays. CBP will complete negotiations with the five selected programs by the end of this calendar year to determine the nature and timeline of its partnership.
This announcement is a victory not only for businesses in Laredo and the Valley but for regional cooperation across South Texas. I look forward to seeing how CBP and the South Texas Consortium will work together to reaffirm the strength of our economy.