The nearly 2,000-mile-long border separating the United States and Mexico is one of the most frequently crossed and perhaps most economically significant international borders in the world.
Every day, more than $1 billion worth of goods — much of it produced by U.S. small businesses and farmers — cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Increased trade resulting from NAFTA has added 1.7 million jobs to the U.S. economy.
However, the tremendous trade-related economic gains achieved by both countries during the past two decades are slowly eroding because of violence, delays and other inefficiencies at the border. Congestion and delays at border crossings between San Diego County and Baja California alone cost the U.S. and Mexican economies an estimated $7.2 billion in foregone gross output and more than 62,000 jobs.
What can be done to create a modern 21st-century border that will increase productivity, drive economic growth and create more jobs? It starts with securing the border. No factor is more fundamental to investment, economic growth and job creation than security and the rule of law.
It’s encouraging to see the U.S. and Mexican governments working together to combat criminal organizations that subvert public safety and threaten our collective security. It won’t happen overnight, but with a continued commitment from the presidents of both countries, we can take back control of our border.
Strong border security need not come at the expense of free-flowing trade. Goods can be transported with the highest levels of security by allowing shippers who can ensure the integrity of their loads and the use of effective security practices — and those of their supply chain partners — to participate in trusted shipper programs.
To further facilitate trade, technology to better manage border bottlenecks should be widely deployed. And U.S. agencies with authority to delay or deny crossings must be better coordinated and held accountable for unnecessary wait times.
In addition, we must add capacity at ports and increase the number of lanes at land crossings, including lanes dedicated for commercial traffic. The opening of three new ports of entry last year represents progress, but we still have a ways to go. Comprehensive immigration and visa reform could help substantially alleviate the strain on our border, while adding to the economic vitality of our countries.
Finally, we need to think hard about how well we are laying out the welcome mat to immigrants and visitors. Clearly, a visitor’s experience coming into our country can be improved, from the visa process to security protocols to customs clearance. Click here for more information.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.