Thursday, March 28, 2013

From Wall Street Journal: Obama to Visit Mexico



President Barack Obama will visit Mexico in May for a meeting with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto that is expected to take up trade, economic growth and immigration, the two countries said on Wednesday.
The May 2-4 trip will also include a stop in Costa Rica, where Mr. Obama will meet with Central American leaders.
"The president welcomes the opportunity to discuss ways to deepen our economic and commercial partnership and further our engagement on the broad array of bilateral, regional, and global issues that connect our two countries," the White House said.
The trip comes as Mr. Obama is pressing Congress to pass a broad immigration overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally—many of them Mexicans.
"We're fully cognizant of your current political calendar and agenda vis a vis immigration reform," a Mexican official said. Mr. Peña Nieto "has expressed in the past his willingness to work in whatever ways we can to move help move these processes forward."
The Pew Hispanic Center released a report last year showing that net migration from Mexico to the U.S. "has come to a standstill…and may have reversed."
In November, before taking office, Mr. Peña Nieto traveled to Washington and invited Mr. Obama to visit. The two men spoke by phone Wednesday before the trip was announced. Mr. Obama has already been to Mexico twice as president; he hasn't visited Costa Rica.
Various trade issues also will be part of the talks, including Mr. Obama's call for a free-trade pact with the European Union. In his State of the Union speech in February, Mr. Obama said he would pursue such a trade deal to help boost U.S. employment.
Mexico has a keen interest in another one of Mr. Obama's legislative priorities: gun control.
In his first visit to Mexico, in April 2009, Mr. Obama met with then-president Felipe Calderón and acknowledged that the southbound flow of guns was feeding violence in Mexico. Mr. Obama, at the time, didn't commit to fight for a ban on military-style guns known as assault weapons. Four years later, following the gun massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Obama came out in favor of a gun-control package that includes an assault weapons ban. Senate Democratic leaders have said such a ban is unlikely to pass.

From The Fronteras Desk: Semana Santa Means Retail Pilgrimage To The US

http://www.fronterasdesk.org/news/2013/mar/28/semana-santa-means-retail-pilgrimage-us/


 — This week is Semana Santa – or Holy Week. It’s a big week in Mexico, when schools cancel classes and businesses take a holiday for the last week of Lent before Easter. And it’s a big week for retailers in the Southwest, because Mexican shoppers cross the border in droves.
For San Antonio, it’s one of the biggest weeks of the year for retail sales, and hopes are high for this year’s Semana Santa spending spree because of a powerful peso.
Music pulsates at San Antonio’s Shops at La Cantera, a high-end shopping mall. The cash registers are also pulsating as shoppers from Mexico are here looking for deals and quality merchandise.
Aldolfo Muzquiz is from the state of Coahuila. He and his family make several trips here a year, but Holy Week is a special time to leave Mexico.
“You basically shut down all the commerce and all the work there so the people have the chance to go to the states and do their shopping as well as relax during vacation,” Muzquiz said.
Muzquiz adds he and his family feel safer shopping in the U.S. with the ongoing violence in his country. Even with a stronger peso, Maria Ortiz from Guadalajara says she has more buying power here.
“In Mexico everything is expensive. Everything. Here? No. There sales are very good for us,” she said.
The Mexican peso is enjoying a two-year high in comparison to the dollar. And it’s trending up as there’s optimism that economic reforms in Mexico will spur greater growth.
That’s a good trend for San Antonio merchants like Humberto Fuentes who cater to Mexican shoppers. He’s an assistant manager at a Clark’s, which sells shoes and purses. He says during Holy Week, Mexican nationals boost sales about 60 percent.
“I think it’s an extra push, it doesn’t make us or break us but it definitely helps us with achieving our budgets, our goals for the end of the year,” Fuentes said.
However, Holy Week isn’t the only Mexican boost Texas gets — Christmas and July are also high spending times for visitors. Ramiro Cavazos of San Antonio’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says the owner of two of the city’s affluent shopping malls, including La Cantera, reports patrons from Mexico make up 50 to 60 percent of the shopping clientele during these time periods. He claims many flock to Texas due to its friendly climate.
“I think they’re coming here because they feel welcome," Cavazos said.
Cavazos said San Antonio is a bilingual city and culturally connected to Mexico. But says some other Southwestern metropolitan areas are not.
The economic impact here as whole is clear. In a three-year study of 20 Texas counties the credit card company VISA monitored the spending habits of Mexican nationals. There was a 66 percent increase in spending from March to April last year. In dollars, that’s a jump from $168 million to $279 million.
Steve Niven is an economist with the Saber Institute, a creation of San Antonio’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and St. Mary’s University. They study regional economies. Nivin says boosts like this are something you would not see in other parts of the country.
“If you’re the metropolitan economy of Kansas City you’re probably not going to see these kinds of impacts. It’s a nice little addition to our economy that provides more diversification in our economy, and helps provide a little stability as well,” Nivin said.
This kind of economic impact is unique to the southern border. And as Mexico’s economy continues on the upswing with a growing middle class, Holy Week spending could increase as its proven in the last three years of the study.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

From Bloomberg: Mexico envisions Nafta - EU trade agreement foreign minister says



Mexico envisions a trade deal tying it to the European Union, U.S. and Canada as the future of transatlantic commerce and would welcome joining talks between the U.S. and EU, Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade said.
An agreement that binds the nations of the North American Free Trade Agreement to the EU, the world’s two largest free- trade areas, makes the most sense because it would leverage the economic power of the Nafta nations, Meade said. Mexico already has a free-trade deal with the EU, while Canada and the U.S. are each negotiating their own trade deal.
Having each nation in a separate bilateral agreement with the EU wouldn’t “take full advantage of the economies of scale and scope that have resulted from Nafta,” Meade said in an interview yesterday in Washington. “We would be very willing to participate from the outset if from the outset it would be made to be something regional rather than bilateral.”
The U.S. and EU are aiming to complete trade talks within two years on a deal that would expand their economic relationship after President Barack Obama promised in his State of the Union speech to pursue an agreement. The 27-nation EU says the accord will seek to lower tariffs, ease regulatory barriers and expand access in investment, services and public procurement, among other steps.
The EU says a deal with the U.S. could add 86 billion euros ($111.7 billion) a year to the bloc’s economy. While trade and investment between the U.S. and the EU was valued at $4.5 trillion in 2011, the two governments have been at odds over issues including farm subsidies, health protections and regulatory standards.

‘Superior Equilibrium’

Nafta went into effect in 1994, and in October Mexico and Canada joined U.S.-led negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership that include eight other nations in Latin American and Asia.
“We think that in terms of trade, as well as in other contexts, a North American perspective works,” Meade said.
In an interview on March 21 at Bloomberg’s Mexico Economic Summit, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said that President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office Dec. 1, met withJose Barroso, head of the European Commission, and European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, and that they agreed to work on updating the Mexico-EU free-trade agreement that took effect in 2000.
Canada and the EU are also working on a trade deal. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harperon March 14 said that while the sides have made “significant” progress, important issues need to resolved before the accord is finalized. It would be an advantage for Canada to sign the agreement with the EU before the U.S. signs one, Harper said during a joint news conference with French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Ottawa.
“It probably is the case that one can start by having the three bilateral agreements, but I think the region would benefit if at some point we keep in mind that a superior equilibrium can be reached if the negotiations were North America toward Europe rather than bilaterally each one of us with them,” Meade said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Eric Martin in Mexico City at emartin21@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

From the Christian Science Monitor: A model to end Washington gridlock: Mexico


The moment is hard to predict. When does a nation or a person, after experiencing enough self-inflicted suffering, finally seek reform?


In Washington, the years of political gridlock in Congress have yet to lead to such a moment of reforming remorse. But perhaps the United States should look to a possible model – just to its south.
Since December, when Mexico’s three main political parties pledged to seek 94 reforms, that country has been on a turnaround from past stalemates and policy misdirections. It is as if Mexico had hit bottom, only to decide that its Congress must set aside some differences for the sake of the future.
Gridlock was finally seen as simply too costly. The nation’s drug-fueled gang violence had gone on too long. And new leaders in each party had opened a door for change.
The so-called Pact for Mexico signed by top political leaders has enabled President Enrique Peña Nieto to overcome legislative paralysis and either pass or present serious reforms. To the surprise of many, his own Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which once represented the entrenched status quo, has taken on big interests that have long held Mexico back – in education, energy, broadcasting, and telecommunications.
Perhaps the most historic shift came when PRI approved a proposal to open Pemex, the state oil monopoly, to private investment. This potential reform still faces hurdles but is now seen as essential to reverse a decline in petroleum production and to wean the government off an overreliance on oil revenues.
The country’s recent boom in exports – which some see as enabling the Mexican economy to become an “Aztec tiger” – depends on this key reform. PRI also approved tax reforms to help pay for new social programs and new infrastructure.
Another critical reform was passage of a constitutional amendment that sets up the chance for drastic improvement in education. The government has also challenged the powerful teachers union by arresting its lavishly wealthy leader, Elba Esther Gordillo, on corruption charges.
Mr. Peña Nieto is also winning legislative support for beefing up the nation’s pro-competition laws, sending notice that he will break up semi-monopolies in the TV broadcasting and cellphone industry. The latter means taking on the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, whose Telmex controls 80 percent of Mexican landlines and 70 percent of the mobile-phone market.
The new president has smartly used his first 100 days in office to build on the reform consensus of the major parties. “The intensity won’t be passing. The pace of work will keep up. We didn’t come just to govern, but to transform,” he declared last week.
Many Mexicans have yet to see the results of these reform ideas. They remain skeptical. And with elections coming up soon, the political consensus for reform will be tested in the contests for power.
But at least Mexicans have witnessed a rare moment in which their bickering political leaders came together for change. At a time when the US Congress is struggling even to pass a budget, Mexico provides a model for what can be done when a nation says “enough” to self-imposed hardship. The lesson has been learned.

Monday, March 25, 2013

From The LA Times: Wealthy, business-savvy Mexican immigrants transform Texas city




SAN ANTONIO — The Mexican businessmen in Rolexes and Burberry ties meet on the north side of town, at Cielito Lindo Restaurant, or at new neighboring country clubs. Their wives frequent Neiman Marcus, Tiffany's and Brooks Brothers at the nearby mall. Their children park Porsches with Mexican license plates in the student lots at Reagan High School.
They are part of a wave of legal Mexican immigrants who have been overlooked in the national debate over how to deal with their largely impoverished illegal compatriots. Propelled north by drug cartel violence, they paid thousands of dollars to hire attorneys and obtain investors' visas for themselves and their families (including maids). They have regrouped in gated developments in several Texas cities, where their growing influence has been compared to the impact of well-heeled Cuban refugees who arrived in Miami decades ago.
Nowhere is the evidence more striking than in San Antonio, Texas' second-largest city and a short private-jet hop from Monterrey, Mexico, where many of the new immigrants built their wealth. They have poured into developments with names like the Dominion, Stone Oak and Sonterra that were cut into the rocky hills and oak groves north of the Loop 1604 highway that rings the city.
More than 50,000 Mexican nationals now live permanently in San Antonio, city officials say, turning an upscale enclave known as "Sonterrey" or "Little Monterrey" into the city's second-fastest growing ZIP code.
Real estate agent Ana Sarabia caters to the new arrivals — finding them immigration lawyers, new schools, banks and office space — and sees them reshaping her hometown.
"I can see it transitioning," said Sarabia, 45, who lived for a time in Mexico City. "This has always been a bicultural city. Parts of it have now become a new Mexico."
There's Lorena Canales, 40, who moved from Monterrey with her two youngest children two and a half years ago to start a bilingual day care after witnessing a gun battle outside her local Wal-Mart.
Uriel Arnaiz, 40, relocated with his wife and 3-year-old son from Mexico City four years ago to open a high-end tequila import business after some of his son's friends were kidnapped.
José Ramos, 55, moved two years ago from Monterrey to open a restaurant, Vida Mia, after a relative was kidnapped and killed.
It's not clear whether new immigration policies being contemplated in Washington would affect this group of wealthy immigrants, who skip long immigration lines by hiring attorneys in Mexico to apply for business-related visas at U.S. consulates.
Most had to prove they were either employed by a multinational company or had a valid business plan and enough money to start their own. Some had to show American investments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many moved in a matter of weeks, though some said the process had become more difficult in recent years, with tougher screening by U.S. consulates.
Costs vary depending on the type of visa. In many cases, it is cheaper than what a smuggler would charge for an illegal crossing. Attorney fees can range from $1,500 to $6,500, compared with coyote payments of $6,000 or more.
Arnaiz's initial visa allowed him to stay in the U.S. for up to a year. He was able to renew the visa, which is required every two years for up to seven years if he wants to stay. His wife and son were eligible for visas for the same time period (children under age 21 are eligible). While staying in the U.S. on those visas, they were allowed to pursue permanent residency, or green cards, which they got in recent months.
"There's a lot of requirements," Arnaiz said. "You need to have a real, sustainable project."
The visa for professions listed in the North American Free Trade Agreement is relatively quick and cheap to obtain, some said, with attorney fees ranging from $1,500 to $3,000.
During the last decade, the number of such visas issued to Mexicans annually skyrocketed from 686 to 7,601, according to the State Department.
The newcomers — nicknamed "migrantes fresas," or rich migrants — are conspicuous even in this largely Latino city. Sociologists compare the "Mexodus" of professionals to the wave of exiles who fled to Texas after the Mexican Revolution in 1910, or wealthy Cubans who decamped to South Florida after the revolution in 1959.
Former San Antonio Mayor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, whose grandfather was exiled to San Antonio during the Mexican Revolution, calls them a "new diaspora with the potential to rival the impact Cubans had on Miami."
Harriett Romo, a sociology professor and director of the Mexico Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has been studying a dozen Mexican families who immigrated through investor visas.
"What we're seeing is that they move into kind of a new Mexican enclave — it's not a barrio like you would see on the east side of L.A. or west side of San Antonio. It's an upscale Mexican neighborhood with parties at the country club," she said.
Romo found that the new residents don't mix much with lower-income Mexican immigrants or with Mexican Americans, the Tejanos who helped build San Antonio. They are focused instead on "changing the image of the immigrant," she said. "They see themselves as having a very different experience because they come with official visas and more resources."
Writer Sandra Cisneros, a Chicago native who has lived in San Antonio for almost 30 years, says the flow of wealthy immigrants "constantly refreshing the ties" to Mexico has changed the character of the city, which long had the feel of a small town and now has a population of about 1.4 million.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a Mexican American and a rising star in the Democratic Party who has traveled south of the border to recruit businesses, says he hopes the newcomers stay.
"My hope is that they are planting firm roots and will become American citizens and fully participate in the community," he said.
The number of international passengers traveling to San Antonio International Airport increased 132% last year from the year before, and the airport added two new carriers to Mexico.
Flight schools are struggling to meet the demand for pilots to fly Mexicans whose private jets fill the runways of southern Texas.
Pepe Hurtado says many of the clients at his San Antonio luxury car business store their cars in hangars at the airport when they jet back to Mexico.
Cars with plates from the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila also fill the parking lots of the north side's Life Time Fitness, Holy Trinity Catholic Church and HEB grocery.
"You can definitely see it and feel it. There are times I go to HEB and I only hear Spanish," said Sylvia Orduna, 33, who works at a high-end cosmetics company that has seen steady business from new Mexican residents.
Pamela Gardner, 61, has lived at the Sonterra housing development for a decade and has noticed many new Mexican neighbors in the last few years.
"It does put a strain on the schools," Gardner said, noting that some schools have been "capped," turning away new students. She said her daughter, a vice principal at a local school, had to add classes in English as a second language because so many students speak only Spanish.
"You feel bad for the husbands because they're down there during the week and they come on the weekends and have to go back. It's sad," she said of those who commute to work in Mexico.
Newcomers settle in Sonterrey because they hear from friends that the local public schools are highly rated, they have business connections in the area and see billboards in Mexico advertising the gated communities. Some have difficulty adjusting, particularly wives and children accustomed to cooks and chauffeurs.
"We are used to being served and surrounded by help," said Arnaiz, whose wife traded two live-in maids for a Mexican American housekeeper who comes twice a week.
"That's why you see a lot of Mexican nationals here with their maids," he said. "Being here without domestic help, the inside dynamic of the family is different."
Canales, the mother from Monterrey, says her children had to adjust to life without a maid and their father during the week. But she says the trade-off is they can bicycle and hear other kids playing outside — a joyful noise they had not heard for years in Monterrey, where they lived behind high walls and barred windows.
"We had neighbors whose children were kidnapped and never came back," she said.
But in Sonterrey, as in Mexico, gates don't guarantee protection from the cartels.
Last year, one of Arnaiz's neighbors, fellow newcomer Fernando Alejandro Cano Martinez, was charged with laundering money for the Gulf cartel. Two brothers from Guadalajara were charged with using north side homes and businesses as a front for cartel money, which financed their Learjet, an Italian restaurant and other investments.
"We're seeing 'Miami Vice'-type money laundering — shipments of currency and wire transfers from international organizations," said Michael Lemoine, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service in San Antonio.
It's not clear how permanent the new enclave and its problems are. Many residents are watching to see if the newly elected Mexican president can curb cartel violence enough for them to feel safe moving back to Mexico.
Ramos, the restaurant owner, is among those who have debated returning to Mexico. His daughter Mayela at first struggled with the transition. But when he decided to stay, she agreed.
"All my friends ask me, 'When are you coming back?'" Mayela Ramos, 26, said during the lunchtime rush at the restaurant, as Mexican ladies with designer handbags nibbled fideo, a Mexican pasta, and chatted in Spanish. "But our life is here now."

Friday, March 22, 2013

From EL Paso Times: El Paso, Customs may see bridge pact



El Paso now has a chance of reducing long bridge waits on its own because two freshman El Paso congressmen delivered on big campaign promises.
The House of Representatives, with strong support from local representatives Beto O'Rourke and Pete Gallego, on Thursday adopted a continuing resolution that would authorize five U.S.-Mexico border communities to enter into private-public partnerships with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The partnerships would allow businesses, governments and nonprofits to supply additional funding for Customs and Border Protection in areas where there is need.
For El Paso, the need is the international ports of entry. Long waits at the five bridges cost the area millions of dollars and cause pollution, economic experts say.
The bipartisan resolution would permit the city, the county, businesses and other organizations to find ways to solve the wait problems and expand El Paso's economy. Both congressmen made bridge times a priority during their campaigns to knock off incumbents.
A similar resolution, headed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was adopted by the Senate on Wednesday. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it soon.
"I can't praise the congressmen enough," Mayor John Cook said. "This is a great win for us. This is going to solve one of this community's biggest problems and help El Paso become the international economy that it is capable of."
O'Rourke credited El Paso for spurring the


legislation. In August 2011, the city tried to give funds through raising tolls to Customs and Border Protection to help staff bridges.
But the government agency said it did not have the authority to accept money or to broker a deal. The city then adopted a resolution stating that if the federal government provided a mechanism, the city would help so that more agents could be hired at the bridges.
"This has been one of my biggest goals, but credit really has to go to the council and the mayor," O'Rourke said. "They started the idea and now the community is a winner."
O'Rourke collected signatures in the House in support of the resolution and lobbied senators when the resolution was nearly dropped. He also drafted a letter to urge keeping the resolution.
Gallego also lobbied for support and had helped draft a bill similar in wording.
"Jobs, small businesses and the livelihoods of many families in El Paso and Texas are linked to our ports of entry," Gallego said in a statement. "Measures that help to modernize our ports and reduce wait time benefit us all. This was a cumulative effort in which many El Pasoans took part."
At a special El Paso City Council meeting on Thursday, Cook said area trade with Mexico has grown more than $9 million in El Paso in the past year. About $100 billion in trade takes place between Mexico and Texas alone, he added.
A report by the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce states that $75 billion of commerce came through El Paso bridges in 2012, making it the second-busiest port in the country.
About 100,000 jobs in El Paso are tied to international trade, according to a study conducted by the El Paso branch of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas.
City Rep. Steve Ortega noted that with the decreased violence in Mexico, many industries, particularly the maquila doras, are growing and so is discretionary travel to Mexico by El Pasoans. City Rep. Emma Acosta said she recently read that for every four jobs created in Juárez, one is created in El Paso.
But waits at the El Paso bridges can often be one to four hours, especially during peak use. It could get worse with budget cuts known as sequestration, which would mandate 15 percent pay cuts for many employees who operate the international ports of entry.
That hurts the local economy, local officials said.
"We're at a boiling point," Ortega said. "If we don't do something now, we're losing millions, maybe billions of dollars. Then we fall behind."
A study by the Department of Commerce International Trade Administration found border waits at the five busiest southern border ports of entry, including El Paso, result in an average economic output loss of $116 million per minute of delay. It costs the U.S. economy 26,000 jobs and $6 billion in output, according to the study.
The city issued a study of the five bridges and found that all of them were structurally deficient. It prompted Ortega and city Reps. Cortney Niland and Susie Byrd in 2011 to ask whether the city could help provide staff at the bridges.
"This is huge," County Judge Veronica Escobar said. "I think it's really demonstrative of our community that this idea came out of El Paso and City Council. We are finding creative ways to bring big challenges."
The process by which the five communities will be selected for the pilot program remains unclear at this point. Each area can submit a proposal to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security -- which includes Customs and Border Protection -- but there are no established deadlines for applications or decisions.
The Department of Homeland Security will pick the five cities.
O'Rourke says El Paso will be a favorite because of its dependence on bridges and the resolution passed in 2011. He warned, though, the city and private businesses will need to come together to secure funding.
"U.S. Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano and I talked yesterday and I told her I look forward to El Paso being selected," O'Rourke said. "She knows a lot about the area and what's going on, and increasing ease of border crossings is one of her top priorities."
The concern with the resolution could be that it starts a precedent of local governments funding federal responsibilities. O'Rourke admitted that he has thought of that but stressed that this particular resolution has wording that the community will not replace federal government funds but supplement them.
"The federal government cannot say, now that we have sequestration, you fund what would be a normal level of agents at the bridge," O'Rourke said. "We would only be adding, making it better. I look at it more as a positive that sometimes you have to take matters in your own hands and can't wait on someone else. We learned that with the medical school when someone like Paul Foster stepped up along with other entities."
The question now becomes how the city will proceed with its proposal.
Cook, through what he calls Project 21, has developed three key areas in which border crossing times can be reduced.
Working with a company that the city hired last year, Cook recommended:
  • Completing two dedicated lanes for previously authorized shipments on the Mexican side of the Zaragoza Bridge, which affects about 500 commercial trucks per day.
  • Implementation of cross-border buses to facilitate pedestrian traffic.
  • A toll lane at the Bridge of the Americas for high users to speed through the crossing.
  • Cook said he presented his plan to Napolitano and said she was impressed. Cook, who will seek permission on Tuesday from City Council to present these plans in Mexico City, also proposed directing commercial traffic to the Zaragoza Bridge and increasing staff at bridges.
The City Council and some other organizations had some objections. Many representing the maquiladoras said travel to the Zaragoza Bridge would add costs in fuel, tolls and hours worked.
City Council members said that staffing should be key and that rash decisions should not be made. Ortega and Byrd questioned whether a bus would really ease congestion and said that transferring commercial traffic to Zaragoza might just put the problem at another bridge.
"We need to study this and come up with a good proposal," Byrd said. "And all studies point to staffing."
Cook said the city must act fast and come up with something different so El Paso becomes a model "borderplex." Proposals are due soon, and increasing staffing is not creative enough to become one of the five pilot programs, he added.
Cook stressed that his proposals have been looked at by Customs and Border Protection experts, too. He said that if commercial traffic were moved to the Zaragoza Bridge, Customs and Border Protection would be willing to keep inspection gates open and not reduce hours because of budget cuts.
"Time is of the essence. We don't have time to sit around," said Cook, who has served on many boards and organizations dealing with U.S.-Mexico relations.
"We need something to impress, something unique. We needed to act yesterday and we have to have something great to really become the Borderplex of the future."
Evan Mohl may be reached at emohl@elpasotimes.com; 546-6381. Follow him on Twitter @EvanMohl

From EL Paso Times: El Paso, Customs may see bridge pact



El Paso now has a chance of reducing long bridge waits on its own because two freshman El Paso congressmen delivered on big campaign promises.
The House of Representatives, with strong support from local representatives Beto O'Rourke and Pete Gallego, on Thursday adopted a continuing resolution that would authorize five U.S.-Mexico border communities to enter into private-public partnerships with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The partnerships would allow businesses, governments and nonprofits to supply additional funding for Customs and Border Protection in areas where there is need.
For El Paso, the need is the international ports of entry. Long waits at the five bridges cost the area millions of dollars and cause pollution, economic experts say.
The bipartisan resolution would permit the city, the county, businesses and other organizations to find ways to solve the wait problems and expand El Paso's economy. Both congressmen made bridge times a priority during their campaigns to knock off incumbents.
A similar resolution, headed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was adopted by the Senate on Wednesday. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it soon.
"I can't praise the congressmen enough," Mayor John Cook said. "This is a great win for us. This is going to solve one of this community's biggest problems and help El Paso become the international economy that it is capable of."
O'Rourke credited El Paso for spurring the


legislation. In August 2011, the city tried to give funds through raising tolls to Customs and Border Protection to help staff bridges.
But the government agency said it did not have the authority to accept money or to broker a deal. The city then adopted a resolution stating that if the federal government provided a mechanism, the city would help so that more agents could be hired at the bridges.
"This has been one of my biggest goals, but credit really has to go to the council and the mayor," O'Rourke said. "They started the idea and now the community is a winner."
O'Rourke collected signatures in the House in support of the resolution and lobbied senators when the resolution was nearly dropped. He also drafted a letter to urge keeping the resolution.
Gallego also lobbied for support and had helped draft a bill similar in wording.
"Jobs, small businesses and the livelihoods of many families in El Paso and Texas are linked to our ports of entry," Gallego said in a statement. "Measures that help to modernize our ports and reduce wait time benefit us all. This was a cumulative effort in which many El Pasoans took part."
At a special El Paso City Council meeting on Thursday, Cook said area trade with Mexico has grown more than $9 million in El Paso in the past year. About $100 billion in trade takes place between Mexico and Texas alone, he added.
A report by the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce states that $75 billion of commerce came through El Paso bridges in 2012, making it the second-busiest port in the country.
About 100,000 jobs in El Paso are tied to international trade, according to a study conducted by the El Paso branch of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas.
City Rep. Steve Ortega noted that with the decreased violence in Mexico, many industries, particularly the maquila doras, are growing and so is discretionary travel to Mexico by El Pasoans. City Rep. Emma Acosta said she recently read that for every four jobs created in Juárez, one is created in El Paso.
But waits at the El Paso bridges can often be one to four hours, especially during peak use. It could get worse with budget cuts known as sequestration, which would mandate 15 percent pay cuts for many employees who operate the international ports of entry.
That hurts the local economy, local officials said.
"We're at a boiling point," Ortega said. "If we don't do something now, we're losing millions, maybe billions of dollars. Then we fall behind."
A study by the Department of Commerce International Trade Administration found border waits at the five busiest southern border ports of entry, including El Paso, result in an average economic output loss of $116 million per minute of delay. It costs the U.S. economy 26,000 jobs and $6 billion in output, according to the study.
The city issued a study of the five bridges and found that all of them were structurally deficient. It prompted Ortega and city Reps. Cortney Niland and Susie Byrd in 2011 to ask whether the city could help provide staff at the bridges.
"This is huge," County Judge Veronica Escobar said. "I think it's really demonstrative of our community that this idea came out of El Paso and City Council. We are finding creative ways to bring big challenges."
The process by which the five communities will be selected for the pilot program remains unclear at this point. Each area can submit a proposal to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security -- which includes Customs and Border Protection -- but there are no established deadlines for applications or decisions.
The Department of Homeland Security will pick the five cities.
O'Rourke says El Paso will be a favorite because of its dependence on bridges and the resolution passed in 2011. He warned, though, the city and private businesses will need to come together to secure funding.
"U.S. Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano and I talked yesterday and I told her I look forward to El Paso being selected," O'Rourke said. "She knows a lot about the area and what's going on, and increasing ease of border crossings is one of her top priorities."
The concern with the resolution could be that it starts a precedent of local governments funding federal responsibilities. O'Rourke admitted that he has thought of that but stressed that this particular resolution has wording that the community will not replace federal government funds but supplement them.
"The federal government cannot say, now that we have sequestration, you fund what would be a normal level of agents at the bridge," O'Rourke said. "We would only be adding, making it better. I look at it more as a positive that sometimes you have to take matters in your own hands and can't wait on someone else. We learned that with the medical school when someone like Paul Foster stepped up along with other entities."
The question now becomes how the city will proceed with its proposal.
Cook, through what he calls Project 21, has developed three key areas in which border crossing times can be reduced.
Working with a company that the city hired last year, Cook recommended:
  • Completing two dedicated lanes for previously authorized shipments on the Mexican side of the Zaragoza Bridge, which affects about 500 commercial trucks per day.
  • Implementation of cross-border buses to facilitate pedestrian traffic.
  • A toll lane at the Bridge of the Americas for high users to speed through the crossing.
  • Cook said he presented his plan to Napolitano and said she was impressed. Cook, who will seek permission on Tuesday from City Council to present these plans in Mexico City, also proposed directing commercial traffic to the Zaragoza Bridge and increasing staff at bridges.
The City Council and some other organizations had some objections. Many representing the maquiladoras said travel to the Zaragoza Bridge would add costs in fuel, tolls and hours worked.
City Council members said that staffing should be key and that rash decisions should not be made. Ortega and Byrd questioned whether a bus would really ease congestion and said that transferring commercial traffic to Zaragoza might just put the problem at another bridge.
"We need to study this and come up with a good proposal," Byrd said. "And all studies point to staffing."
Cook said the city must act fast and come up with something different so El Paso becomes a model "borderplex." Proposals are due soon, and increasing staffing is not creative enough to become one of the five pilot programs, he added.
Cook stressed that his proposals have been looked at by Customs and Border Protection experts, too. He said that if commercial traffic were moved to the Zaragoza Bridge, Customs and Border Protection would be willing to keep inspection gates open and not reduce hours because of budget cuts.
"Time is of the essence. We don't have time to sit around," said Cook, who has served on many boards and organizations dealing with U.S.-Mexico relations.
"We need something to impress, something unique. We needed to act yesterday and we have to have something great to really become the Borderplex of the future."
Evan Mohl may be reached at emohl@elpasotimes.com; 546-6381. Follow him on Twitter @EvanMohl

From Newsweek:Videgaray says free floating peso to continue amid Mexico rally

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-03-21/videgaray-says-free-floating-peso-to-continue-amid-mexico-rally


Mexico Finance Minister Luis Videgaray said the government will allow the peso to float freely, even after a rally that outstripped gains in all major currencies this year.
“We’ll continue with a currency policy where the exchange rate is freely determined by the market,” Videgaray said today at the Bloomberg Mexico Economic Summit. “A flexible exchange rate is a useful instrument to preserve macro-economic stability, particularly in a world where we have risks, where problems exist.”
The peso gained 3.4 percent this year against the U.S. dollar, the best performance among the 16 most traded currencies tracked by Bloomberg. Mexico is sticking to its policy even as countries from Japan to Costa Rica move to weaken their currencies in a bid to boost economic growth.
The currency pared an earlier loss after Videgaray’s comments and fell 0.7 percent to 12.4295 per U.S. dollar today after earlier climbing as much as 0.2 percent to 12.3226, the strongest level since September 2011.
Mexico’s foreign exchange rate is at a level that doesn’t hurt exports, Jens Nordvig, a New York-based managing director at Nomura Holdings Inc., said at the summit. The currency will probably strengthen to about 12 per dollar by year-end and can rally beyond that should the government succeed with its push to open the oil industry to more private investments and boost tax collection, he said.

Optimism

The impact of a stronger currency on exports is overshadowed by the optimism that the government’s economic plan will boost growth, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said at the summit. Guajardo said Pena Nieto’s energy overhaul will require amending Mexico’s constitution.
Foreign direct investment can more than double to at least $30 billion a year, Guajardo said, without providing a timeframe. FDI fell 34.9 percent last year to $12.66 billion, according to preliminary figures from the economy ministry.
The central bank has been selling dollars since November 2011 when the currency weakens more than 2 percent in a single day. Any intervention on the market will be based on existing rules, Videgaray said.
“The intervention by the currency commission will be as it has been until now, with previously-known rules that have the objective of moderating abrupt variations from one day to the next,” Videgaray said.

Faster Growth

Costa Rica’s central bank has bought $185 million so far in March, more than 14 times the amount purchased last month, to limit the colon’s appreciation in Central America’s second- biggest economy. Japanese Prime Minister has pushed the Bank of Japan (8301) to expand monetary easing that has contributed to the yen’s more than 17 percent decline against the dollar in the past six months.
President Enrique Pena Nieto’s top economic priority is passing bills to increase productivity that could accelerate annual expansion beyond 5 percent, Videgaray said.
“Mexico’s growth is good, but it’s not enough to achieve our goals and fight poverty,” Videgaray said. “If we capitalize on this opportunity, Mexico could lift its potential growth.”
Pena Nieto in coming weeks will present a bill to boost bank lending, Videgaray said. The financial system doesn’t provide enough credit to help sustain faster economic growth, he said.

Political Pact

The president said during his last year’s election that he would make opening Petroleos Mexicanos to more private investment his “signature issue” as he looks to reverse production declines 75 years after his Institutional Revolutionary Party nationalized the oil industry.
Pena Nieto, 46, brought Mexico’s three biggest political parties together to sign the Pact for Mexico on Dec. 2 as part of his bid to gain congressional support for his economic plans.
Mexico’s politicians have shown “greater maturity” in working together since Pena Nieto took office, Alejandro Valenzuela, chief executive officer of Grupo Financiero Banorte SAB (GFNORTEO), Mexico’s third-largest bank by outstanding loans, said at the summit.
Moody’s Investors Service, which rates Mexico Baa1, the third-lowest investment grade, will probably reassess Mexico’s rating at mid-year, said Mauro Leos, a senior credit officer at the agency.
Standard & Poor’s last week raised its outlook on Mexico BBB rating to positive from stable on the prospect that proposed legal changes will fuel expansion in Latin America’s second- largest economy.

Rating Reassessed

“What we should expect along the course of the year, very probably at mid-year, is to do an evaluation, a re-evaluation of the rating to see to what degree the things that we see merit a change,” Leos said in interview.
Mexico may become Latin America’s largest economy by 2020, surpassing Brazil, said Steven Costabile, the global head of the private funds group at PineBridge Investments.
Mexico’s economy has grown faster than Brazil’s the past two years and will expand 3.5 percent this year, compared with 3.4 percent for Brazil, 1.9 percent in the U.S. and a 0.2 percent contraction in the euro area, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
While Mexico is in a “sweet spot,” there will also be difficulties as the nation attempts to move forward in making its economy more competitive, Leos said.
“Be prepared to be disappointed, because there are going to be setbacks,” he said.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

From The DOT: BTS Releases North American Surface Trade Statistics for 2012



BTS Releases North American Surface Trade Statistics for 2012

BTS 12-13
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Contact: Dave Smallen
Tel: 202-366-5568

BTS Releases North American Surface Trade Statistics for 2012:
2012 Surface Trade with Canada and Mexico Rose 6.2 Percent from 2011  


Trade using surface transportation modes between the United States and its North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners Canada and Mexico increased by 6.2 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, valued at $960 billion in 2012, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The $960 billion in U.S.-NAFTA surface mode trade was the highest annual amount since NAFTA went into effect in 1994.  
BTS, a part of the Department’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), reported that U.S. imports by surface mode increased 5.6 percent in 2012 from 2011, while surface-based exports increased 6.9 percent during the same period. 
During the recession period of December 2007 to June 2009, U.S. trade carried by surface modes to and from Mexico declined less than trade with Canada and also rebounded faster. The value of U.S.-Mexico surface trade declined 14.4 percent in 2009 from 2008, and then increased by 61.0 percent in the next three years to reach a level in 2012 that was 37.8 percent higher than in 2008. The value of U.S.-Canada surface trade declined 28.1 percent in 2009 from 2008, and then increased by 44.2 percent in the next three years to reach a level in 2012 that was only 3.6 higher than in 2008. As a result, U.S.-Mexico trade comprised 42.1 percent of North American surface freight trade in 2012, compared to 35.3 percent in 2008. 
In 2012, 86.5 percent of U.S. merchandise trade by value with Canada and Mexico entered or exited the country by surface mode of transportation. Total North American surface transportation trade is up by 50.8 percent since 2009, when U.S.-NAFTA trade fell to a recent low during the recession. In 2009, U.S.-NAFTA trade decreased by 23.3 percent from the previous year. 
U.S.-Canada surface transportation trade totaled $556.2 billion in 2012, an increase of 3.6 percent compared to 2011. The value of goods transported by rail had the largest year-to-year increase. Imports carried by rail were 7.4 percent higher in 2012 than 2011 while the value of exports carried by rail was 11.8 percent higher. The value of pipeline imports and exports decreased, dropping 4.3 and 2.3 percent respectively in 2012 compared to 2011. 
U.S.-Mexico surface transportation trade totaled $403.9 billion in 2012, an increase of 10.0 percent compared to 2011. Similar to the trend on the northern border, the value of goods transported by rail had the highest year to year increase. Imports carried by rail were 14.3 percent higher in 2012 than 2011, while the value of exports carried by rail was 11.1 percent higher. However, the value of U.S.-Mexico pipeline trade was down in 2012 compared to 2011; imports decreased by 23.8 percent and exports decreased by 2.1 percent. 
See BTS Transborder Data Release for summary tables, state rankings and additional data. SeeNorth American Transborder Freight Data for historical data.