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US-Mexico border PPP bill goes to Congress for a vote

The US Senate passed on Tuesday the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act, which will allow local governments along the US border to procure and finance infrastructure projects.

A bill that will allow local governments to procure and finance infrastructure projects along US borders passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday and now moves to the House of Representatives for approval.

The Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act aims to enable local governments and private businesses to partner with US Customs and Border Protection to fund projects that would increase trade.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas and the bill’s author, is specifically targeting trade along the US-Mexico border, which amounts to over $1.5 billion per day of goods and services, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.

A statement from his office said that border communities lacking federal resources are looking for new ways to finance projects that increase the efficiency of the flow of goods at ports of entry.

“Our border communities and the entire state’s economy benefit from robust trade with Mexico,” Cornyn said in a statement. “Facilitating more efficient trade through our ports of entry will demonstrate our commitment to both growing Texas’ economy and the vibrant US-Mexico relationship.”

Henry Cuellar, a Democrat Congressman from Texas sponsoring the bill in the House, said a study from a few years ago identified $5 billion of infrastructure improvement needs at ports of entry in Texas.

“Unless we come up with $5 billion to do all those improvements of the bridges, it only makes sense that we bring in public and private partnerships,” he told Infrastructure Investor.

Acquiring federal funds to improve roads and bridges can be “cumbersome”, Cuellar said, and Washington has “lagged behind” in adopting PPPs. In Laredo, Texas, 14,000 trailers pass on the World Trade Bridge every day. Cuellar said the local government wants to install a fast lane to expedite trade.

The current system requires the City of Laredo to go to US Customs and Border Protection for improvement projects, which then must seek federal approval in Washington.

“We want to streamline the process,” Cuellar said.

The bill should go before the House for a vote by next week, he said. Cuellar said some people have asked him about the urgency of passing the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act because of the incoming Trump administration, and President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to end the North American Free Trade Agreement and limit trade with Mexico.

Cuellar said, “I understand what Trump has said about Mexico and NAFTA, but I think at the end of the day there is no way he’s going to stop this $1.5 billion of trade between the US and Mexico.”