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Why border policies and trade often conflict

border patrol dog

“There is something about border crossings that breeds insanity in politicians,” writes “Schumpeter,” a columnist, in the December 16 issue of The Economist.

One might think that the article is about three new laws signed by Texas governor Greg Abbott which, among other things, give state law enforcement officials the power to arrest undocumented immigrants—setting up a conflict with the federal government.

But the Economist article is not about this matter at all. It is about border trade.

“Instead of keeping vital commercial arteries clear to facilitate trade,” the article continues, politicians “favour putting up barriers. Laredo is a case in point.”

The article reported on a meeting of the Border Trade Alliance (BTA), a coalition of businesses executives and local officials that was held in Laredo this month.

Those present expressed deep concern about certain decisions being taken in Texas’s capital, Austin. BTA treasurer Héctor Cerna said that knee-jerk policies related to illegal immigration have hit vegetable supplies to American supermarkets as well as imports of Corona beer, automobile parts, and refrigerators. “It’s self-inflicted pain,” Cerna said.

The Laredo Colombia Solidarity International Bridge, on the outskirts of Laredo, was once derided as a bridge to nowhere because at the time there was no highway on the Mexican side. Now there is, making it “a flourishing transit point for avocados, cherry tomatoes and other goods for Mexico,” reports Schumpeter.

Abbott has ordered state law enforcement officials to impose random safety checks on transport vehicles—even though they have already passed U.S. customs, “creating long queues. The result is spoilage and ruined just-in-time deliveries. The costs are passed on to consumers,” says Schumpeter although one may suspect that produce suppliers and distributors are taking a big hit at will.

International bridges have been temporarily closed so that personnel can be transferred to process asylum changes, leading to further delays or detours.

“Logistics executives worry that hot-button issues such as immigration and fentanyl will take centre stage during next year’s presidential election,” Schumpeter continues.

It also turns out that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) is due for a sexennial review in 2026, meaning that whoever is in the White House at that point will have a major say in its future and perhaps its survival.

“In America,” says Schumpeter, “the border is a perennially touchy subject. Those far away from it see it as a place of chaos and crisis. Those who live near it think that if only it were managed with more sensitivity, the result would be more trade and a regulated flow of guest workers to ease labour shortages.”

Unfortunately, most Americans do not live near the border.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.