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border groups scramble for message to counter trump's wall, tax talk

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border groups scramble for message to counter trump's wall, tax talk

a broad-based alliance of border advocates gathered in tijuana on thursday to call for a public paign to highlight the benefits of bilateral trade and the need for u.s.-mexico collaboration — a striking counterpoint to president donald trump’s plans for a border wall and a proposal to fund it through a 20 percent import tax.

the meeting, held on the  same day that mexican president enrique peña nieto canceled a planned visit to washington, d.c., brought together organizations from both sides of the border urgently calling for a collective message about the importance of cooperation aimed at policymakers in mexico city and washington.

“it’s going from very bad to horrible, very fast,” said michael uñez, a former istant secretary of commerce under the obama administration and now president of a consulting firm, manattjones. “this isn’t just any relationship, this is a strategic partnership that is perhaps one of the most important economic relationships in the world.”

the group informally calls itself “#oneborder” and was formed in march 2016 with the aim of a ncing a cross-border agenda linking communities from brownsville-matamoros to san diego-tijuana. the meeting in tijuana was scheduled well before this week’s diplomatic crisis with mexico that started with trump’s announcement on wednesday on construction of a border wall.

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“at a local and state level, we all know what’s needed at our local border crossings,” said kenn morris, president of crossborder group, inc. the planned wall “is a good example of people from washington, d.c., and new york who really don’t know the border, who are making impactful and insulting plans without consulting our local border communities.” 

for some, the wall is not an insurmountable issue. “we already have a wall, and we can build a bridge over a wall,” said paola avila, vice president of international business affairs at the san diego regional chamber of commerce and one of the event’s organizers. more than anything, what the united states needs to create a secure border is mexico’s cooperation, she said.

“we depend on mexico for national security, we share information with mexico,” avila said. “mexico keeps terrorists away from the united states. we don’t want to lose that critical partner in the war on drugs, and in the war on terror.”

participants said the group still needs to grow if it hopes to be a strong advocate for issues that are key to the economies on both sides of the border, such as fluid border crossings. they hope the group can help fill the void left by the dissolution of a binational border governors group that highlighted issues of concern to the region.

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“people living in the border region see the u.s.-mexico relationship happening in a way that few others do,” said chris wilson, deputy director for the mexico institute at the woodrow wilson international center for scholars in washington, d.c. “let’s put people in the communities at the center this time.”

the meeting, held on the 26th floor of a high-rise with commanding views of the the san ysidro port of entry and the u.s.-mexico border fence, brought together about 30 members of the private sector, academia, private consultants and others committed to cross-border ties.

the meeting is the group’s third gathering since it was first formed in march 2016 in las vegas. the san diego regional chamber of commerce was one of the hosts of thursday’s event that was attended by representatives of chambers from san ysidro, otay mesa, tecate, tucson, and san antonio, as well as economic development groups from ensenada and tijuana.

the collaborative spirit of thursday’s meeting was in sharp contrast to the growing diplomatic dispute between mexico and the united states. participants were unsure how to respond to thursday’s white house announcement that the border wall would be paid for with a 20 percent tax on imported goods.

if trump moves to create a tariff on mexican-made goods, companies based in mexico “will export elsewhere,” said david mayagoitia, president of the tijuana economic development corporation. “and you know what, american consumers will start paying a lot more for their cars — 53 percent of all components that are sold and embled in the united states come from mexico.”

“at this point, it’s still talk,” said wilson. “is he talking about a tariff, or talking about tax reform?”

uñez, the former u.s. department of commerce official, said changes “could cause many problems in the existing supply chains. we’re talking about two countries that are truly economically integrated.”

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