Yesterday, Congressman Bill Owens hosted a panel discussion titled, "Investing in 21st Century Trade Infrastructure: Modernizing our Borders to Expand Trade, Create American Jobs and Promote Economic Growth." The event was organized by the Congressional Northern Border Caucus, which Owens co-chairs, and the Congressional Border Caucus, which is comprised of Members of Congress representing districts on the southern U.S. border. The panel focused on implementing efficient border procedures and infrastructure improvements to help the American economy capitalize on growth opportunities from trade and tourism.
"Improving border services is about creating jobs and economic growth by encouraging trade and tourism, particularly in border communities," Congressman Owens said. "While there are many important differences between the issues faced by our southern and northern borders, there are also some important similarities. Upgrading border infrastructure, allocating sufficient staffing levels, and creating efficiencies through new technologies to streamline the regulatory compliance process is good economic policy."
Congressional Northern Border Caucus Co-Chairman Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, also shared opening remarks. "Ensuring people and goods can move efficiently is paramount to keeping America competitive in the global marketplace. Better efficiency will benefit everyone and have a positive multiplier effect on people and businesses who rely on more frequent travel through these ports," Congressman Kevin Cramer said after the event.
Congressman Beto O'Rourke, of Texas, also participated in the panel, addressing border conditions in his own district and the economic impact of trade and tourism. "Every single minute of delay at our five busiest ports costs the U.S. economy 166 million dollars," said Rep. O'Rourke. "If we want to create jobs and increase economic productivity and growth in this country, investing in trade and having a rational policy when it comes to our borders should be a priority."
This event's three guest panelists featured two experts on border policy and a representative of a large trucking company, a major border user. Chris Wilson, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, noted that many ports of entry pre-date paradigm-shifting events like the enactment of NAFTA and the attacks on September 11, 2001, and emphasized that we need trade infrastructure built to today's reality. Lisa Seghetti, from the Congressional Research Service, spoke about infrastructure investment opportunities through public-private partnerships and other alternative financing options recently made available through legislation that Congressman Owens has supported. Jevon T. Jamieson, of ABF Freight System, Inc. offered a valuable industry perspective on the necessity of upgraded infrastructure for business supply chains, including the commercially meaningful benefits that result from important activities like "trusted trader" initiatives.
Reps. Scott Peters (CA) and Ron Barber (AZ) also spoke at the event.
After the event, Congressman Owens said, "Our ports are a major source of local jobs and economic activity, but they could do more. We need to improve these resources to fully realize the benefits of Canadian trade and tourism. I will continue to push for necessary improvements to our nation's border facilities to enable the swift passage of people and goods without compromising security."
Rep. Owens recently announced significant increases in the number of Customs and Border Protection officers at U.S. ports of entry, including an estimated 40 to be added to North Country border facilities. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Owens has also pushed for $105 million in necessary fiscal year 2015 appropriations to improve border service at the Alexandria Bay port of entry.