By Raoul Lowery Contreras
Counting the 18-wheel trucks entering the United States at the Otay Mesa truck crossing from Mexico was interesting at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. One truck every 17 seconds.
Unfortunately, with so many highways at the border used by commercial trucking, counting trucks going into Mexico is harder to do. What we do know is that Mexico is San Diego’s number one market as it is for the entire state of California, according to UC San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies.
That’s not just exports; it’s also people. Federal border data shows that more than 33 million people crossed the border at San Ysidro in 2015. Those crossing daily into San Diego include an estimated 50,000 people who work in San Diego, Orange County and even Los Angeles.
Thousands also cross into California at the Baja California capitol, Mexicali, with many reporting to jobs in Las Vegas, four and a half hours away, where they dominate the work force of the gigantic hotel industry in “Sin City.” Bellagio, for example, employs almost 10,000 people, of which over half, we are told, are Mexican, many who commute from Mexico to work four days a week and share apartments with other Mexicans.
Most crossing into the United States aren’t coming to work. Instead they are coming for private schools and colleges, shopping, medical appointments and tourism. They manage to spend an estimated $2 billion a year in San Diego. The same occurs along border all the way to Brownsville, TX. Add a few more billions to the amount spent in San Diego.
The chamber of commerce types are not the only ones talking positively about trade with Mexico. San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer, mixing with colleagues from all over the country and Trump Administration officials in Washington, promotes trade between the largest border cities in the world.
“I’m going to tell that story of how free trade works, of how our relationship with Mexico is a strength, of how we’re creating those good quality jobs,” he said at the airport Tuesday before leaving. “If we don’t tell our story of success, nobody is going to tell it for us.”
The mayor is right. Certainly, the President and his golfing buddies aren’t talking trade with Mexico in a positive way. Trump has slapped heavy duties on washing machines and dryers, with Samsung of South Korea being the specific target. But like most negative efforts on trade, in addition to Samsung’s high-end machines from South Korea, surprise! Mexico sent us $278 million worth of Whirlpool washing and dryer units in 2015. The price on those Mexican-made machines will now be higher to American consumers.
The Fortune 500 American Whirlpool Corp. is not happy about the Trump attack on its products. The phrase “collateral damage” comes to mind.
The final NAFTA talks are now being held. President Trump will announce whether he will walk away from the 25-year-old agreement or, if enough up-to-date adjustments have been agreed to, continue participating with Canada and Mexico in the trillion-dollar-a-year in trade pact.
San Diegans won’t be the only people holding their breath on the future of NAFTA. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that a minimum of six million Americans work in trade with Mexico.
No one knows how many people in San Diego or greater Los Angeles work in trade with Mexico, but an 18-wheeler entering the United States from Tijuana every 17 seconds means that the same is probably true entering Mexico. Almost all those drivers are U.S. citizens. Every one of those trucks is insured by an American insurance company. Every truck uses American-produced diesel and parts and, almost every truck is American-made.
Also to be considered is that Midwestern American farmers live and breathe trade with Mexico and Canada. Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, both Dakotas, Kansas, Indiana, Missouri, Wyoming and even Montana are the states where farmers are affected.
The New York Times published an in-depth piece that showed how Canadian farmers breed little pigs they send to the United States to be grown, fattened and processed by Americans. That Canadian-American pigs wind up as bacon in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Another product built on trade between Mexico and the United States is Mexico’s largest export to us — beer. Mexico imports almost all beer ingredients — grain, malt, barley — from the United States, from thousands of farmers.
If NAFTA is eliminated by President Trump, one thing will happen according to farmers and it will be Trump’s fault — bankruptcy for many, many American farms.
Back to beer, Mexico is now the world’s largest producer of beer, and its biggest market is the United States. The largest company is Mexican-owned. I submit that is economically and trade-wise better than Budweiser, which is European-owned.
Darn, just as I’ve discovered dark “Modelo” beer, if Trump cancels NAFTA, I’ll have to pay more for the only beer I like.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.
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