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Tx lawmakers want to include Mexico in trade pact

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Despite trade between Mexico and the United States surpassing $460 billion in 2011 — a 17 percent increase from 2010 — America’s southern neighbor wasn’t initially considered as a partner in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multi-country affiliation meant to increase trade and reduce tariffs between member countries.

A group of Texas lawmakers recently sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk asking him to consider including Mexico, whose five largest trading destinations include the trade districts of Laredo, El Paso and Houston, in the partnership dialogue. They argue that including Mexico could add to the 6 million jobs supported by the current trade relationship.

As negotiations have progressed, the Obama administration has expressed its support for Mexico to enter into the negotiations. But others have reservations, citing how expanded free trade agreements like NAFTA could lead to lower wages in partnering countries and a loss of jobs in the United States.

The countries included in the partnership are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States. The partnership’s mission, according to Kirk’s office, is to “enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs.”

Calls to Kirk’s office were not immediately returned. But in a statement following last week’s North American Leaders Summit, President Obama said the U.S. welcomes Canada and Mexico’s interest in joining the TPP.

Mexico’s exports to the U.S. increased 20.95 percent in 2011 while imports rose 14.57 percent. Laredo witnessed about $207 billion of that trade, followed by El Paso at $78.1 billion and Houston with $31.4 billion, according to U.S. Census data analyzed by WorldCity, which tracks global trade patterns.

“Last year alone Mexico consumed nearly $200 billion in U.S. exports, making it the second-largest U.S. export market,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, wrote in the letter to Kirk. “Additionally Mexico spends half of its export earnings on U.S. goods, while a remarkable 37 percent of the content of Mexican global exports comes from the United States.”

The letter was also signed by U.S. Reps. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio; John Carter, R-Round Rock; Michael Conaway, R-Midland; John Culberson, R-Houston; Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi;  Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio; Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth; Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Edinburg; Michael McCaul, R-Austin; Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land; Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso; Pete Sessions, R-Dallas; and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

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Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, said that initially, his country wanted to more closely examine the TPP before engaging in any discussions. Now Mexico appears to have warmed up to it.

“The TPP is a natural step forward in Mexico's trade and foreign policy strategies, reinforcing our commitment to maintaining an open economy and strengthening our international trade and investment links,” Sarukhan said in an email. “Mexico's access to TPP markets would also benefit the U.S., as there is a 37% U.S. content in Mexico's total manufacturing exports (compared to less than 4 percent of China).”

Closer to home, however, stakeholders are being firmer in their support. Nelson Balido, the president of the Border Trade Alliance, a pro-trade, nonprofit alliance, said including the NAFTA countries only makes sense.

“If this hemisphere is going to be as competitive as we once were, we have to have these agreements with these partners,” he said. “There are more and more plants going into Mexico as China becomes less attractive.”

Balido points to Ford Motor Company’s recent announcement that it plans to invest $1.3 billion in Mexico to construct a manufacturing plant in the city of Hermosillo as proof that investment in Mexico, despite high levels of violence there, remains attractive.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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