A group of mayors representing communities along U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday called for upgrading of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and said in a joint statement that the upcoming talks offer an “opportunity to renegotiate, modernize and optimize North America’s competitiveness.”
The gathering of the U.S-Mexico Border Mayors Association has brought together local leaders for two days of sessions in San Diego and Tijuana. On Thursday, the group included 13 U.S. mayors and two Mexican mayors.
Their “binational summit,” which launched Wednesday evening and ends Friday, addresses a range of topics that span the border, including trade, economic development, border infrastructure, health and the environment.
Meeting for the first time since Donald Trump became president, the group heard repeated calls that border mayors must speak forcefully and with one voice if they hope to be heard.
“We cannot wait for Mexico City and Washington, D.C. to come rescue us,” said Rafael Fernandez de Castro, newly named director of the University of California San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies.
“The timing of your gathering has never been more important,” Michael Camuñez, a former U.S. undersecretary of Commerce who is now a consultant, told the mayors.
The sessions that began Thursday in San Diego included discussion of the U.S.-Mexico relationship, the modernization of NAFTA, the need to address water and air quality issues, and the importance of strengthening the North American Development Bank, which supports border infrastructure projects.
The gathering is being hosted jointly by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum.
<aside class="trb_ar_sponsoredmod" />“We are calling on Washington to recognize the importance of trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada because the jobs of millions of Americans rely on these binational ties,” said Faulconer.
The Tijuana mayor missed the morning sessions, saying he had fallen ill after eating two tacos late the night before, but arrived in time for the luncheon and signing of a joint resolution. Gastelum is scheduled to host today’s sessions in Tijuana.
The only other Mexican mayor to attend Thursday’s sessions was the mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Hector Armando Cabada, through three other Mexican cities sent representatives: Ensenada, Tecate and Ojinaga, Chihuahua.
Among the U.S. border cities represented were McAllen, Texas; Somerton, Arizona; and Sunland Park, New Mexico. California participants included San Diego, National City, Imperial Beach, Encinitas and Alpine.
The sheer length U.S.-Mexico border, spanning 1,989 miles, poses a challenge for organizations seeking to bring together communities on both sides. A group made up of U.S. and Mexico border governors has not met for years. As a result “there is a political vacuum on the border,” said Erik Lee, executive director of the North American Research Partnership.
“With ongoing political dysfunction in Washington, a lot of the governance of this country seems to be devolving to states and cities,” he said. “This could become an important organization.”
The statement signed by the mayors highlighted the importance of trade in job creation, stressing the 14 million U.S. jobs depend on trade, and that 43 U.S. states list Canada and Mexico as their first or second largest export market.
Most of the points in the text of the resolution refer to the re-negotiation of NAFTA, which is set to begin next month. But it also includes a statement referring the Trump’s plans to expand the border wall.
The mayors called for a recognition “that a one-size-fits-all barrier approach to border security is not the solution.”
This story was updated with additional details at 9 p.m.