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San Diego And Tijuana Leaders Seek Modernization Amid NAFTA Talks

Erik Anderson - As federal negotiators met with their counterparts from Mexico and Canada in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to begin talks on NAFTA, leaders from border cities met in San Diego to support boosting the region's economic cooperation.

Jean Guerrero - As federal negotiators met with their counterparts from Mexico and Canada in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to begin talks on NAFTA, leaders from border cities met in San Diego to support boosting the region's economic cooperation.

As federal negotiators met with their counterparts from Mexico and Canada in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to begin talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement, leaders from border cities met in San Diego to support boosting the region's economic cooperation.

Wednesday marked the first of five days of discussion in Washington D.C., with the first day focusing on the possible renegotiation of parts of the agreement.

NAFTA is a 23-year-old trade pact that did away with most trade barriers, including tariffs, between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

President Donald Trump, during the 2016 presidential campaign, called the trade pact the “worst” in history and has vowed to either fix it, or completely do away with it. The Trump administration and other critics of NAFTA say the trade pact encourages manufacturers to relocate south of border to take advantage of lower wages.

In San Diego, mayors from border cities in Mexico and San Diego County met to support a modernization of NAFTA and to continue efforts to improve the region’s economic cooperation.

RELATED: At NAFTA Kickoff, U.S., Mexico And Canada Already Show Signs Of Disagreement

“Trade between Mexico and the United States, moving through San Diego has increased threefold,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “Totalling $ 60 billion each year,. San Diego exports have grown to $5 billion under NAFTA.”

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum emphasized the need for cooperation between the three partners, saying, “Canada, Mexico and the United States need to continue to work together."

Gastélum said the three partners want to overcome common challenges and take advantage of the opportunities available in the region.

“The United States is our main trading partner with 80 percent of our exports and 50 percent of our imports. Two weeks ago we signed a resolution to encourage the United States and Mexico congress to recognize the importance of trade between our countries,” Gastélum said.

RELATED: Trump Says US Will Not Leave NAFTA — For Now

In a press release, Mayors Faulconer and Gastélum listed several ways in which they pushing for the modernization of NAFTA:

–Encouraging clear and straight-forward rules of trade to ensure that all small and medium-sized businesses have the opportunity to participate.

–Supporting tariffs and fees generated at all borders should be dedicated to border infrastructure, modernization and staffing.

–Recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to border security.

–Renegotiating should be conducted with urgency to minimize economic impacts.

Border mayors say that NAFTA has been an important economic driver in the region and for all three countries in the agreement. Negotiators in Washington say that the pact has forced American jobs out of the country, leading them to pursue renegotiations.

Along with regional mayors, cross-border companies in San Diego and Tijuana are also closely watching the NAFTA negotiations.

Among them is CIR Law Offices International, a San Diego-based collections firm with offices on both sides of the border.

Founder Felipe Becerra said profits rose significantly after the company began hiring Mexican workers four years ago.

“The benefit of being in Tijuana, of course, is saving money," Becerra said. "I mean, that is the ultimate goal. Because you have great talent and because it’s a third world country so you pay less.”

RELATED: NAFTA Changes Could Put A Dip In Guacamole Sales

Mexico partner Alfonso Gonzalez said the company is not exporting American jobs to Mexico. On the contrary, he said, money saved by employing Mexican workers allows CIR to offer more sophisticated, higher-paying jobs in the U.S.

For example, the company has been able to expand into patent law in the U.S. as a result of the Tijuana workforce.

“For every job opportunity that we create over there, we can create at least another one here. Maybe not the same one – we think a better one," Gonzalez said.

CIR adds that if NAFTA renegotiations end up putting too many barriers on trade, the company may have to close its Tijuana offices. According to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, trade between San Diego and Tijuana totals about $4 billion a year.

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