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Congressman Juan Vargas Talks New Trade Deal And Ports Of Entry

Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, offers a late-night tour of the Capitol to San...

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Above: Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, offers a late-night tour of the Capitol to San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce delegation, Sept. 2, 2018.

Congressman Juan Vargas told KPBS he is "skeptical" about the United States Mexico Canada Agreement or USMCA, because he doesn't believe it addresses the damage the original treaty did to Mexico's rural poor, spurring illegal immigration.

The North American Free Trade Agreement , NAFTA, which USMCA will replace if approved by the three countries' legislative bodies, contributed to plummeting crop prices in Mexico and migration out of the countryside as small farmers found it impossible to compete with heavily subsidized and industrialized U.S. agriculture during the 1990s.

“I look at (the new treaty) and I still think you’re going to have the big lure of people coming to work here. I don’t think it does anything for the rural areas in Mexico that brought people here," Vargas said. "So I think in that sense it falls on its face.”

Vargas' comments on USMCA came while a delegation of more than 100 San Diego and Baja California business and community leaders, led by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, lobbied for Congressional approval of the deal, announced Monday.

The delegation, which includes San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, argues the original NAFTA created tens of thousands of manufacturing and tech jobs in the region and boosted the economies of both countries.

But Vargas’ father was a Bracero, a Mexican farmworker who came to the U.S. in the 1940s through a temporary government labor program. Vargas said he is familiar with the plight of Mexico’s farmers and the history of the agriculture sector south of the border.

RELATED: San Diego And Baja California Leaders Celebrate New Trade Deal With Canada

President Trump has long argued that NAFTA was bad for the U.S. and good for Mexico, calling it the "worst trade deal ever made."

While announcing the deal in the Rose Garden, Trump said USMCA was "a great victory" and "a very, very big deal for our farmers. Mexico and Canada will be opened up a lot more than they are now... the agreement will give our farmers and ranchers far greater access to sell American-grown produce in Mexico and in Canada."

Vargas and members of the binational delegation said USMCA is a modernized and strengthened version of the original treaty, rather than a different treaty altogether. Vargas called it "NAFTA 2."

"So you're going to see people coming to find those jobs again," he said, adding that many farmers in his district will be happy about that because they need the fieldworkers.

He said he is not sure if he is going to vote for or against the deal, but that he is "willing to study, to listen and learn."

Vargas was more sympathetic to the delegation's efforts to push for port of entry infrastructure improvements and said he plans to push for funding for a new toll-operated port of entry in Otay Mesa as well as expansions to the Calexico-Mexicali port of entry. He added that the chamber's annual trips to D.C. have been key in securing bipartisan support and federal funding for expansions to ports of entry in the past, including the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

"During all this discussion we've been having about closing borders, we've actually been able to open them up and make them more efficient," he said. "Without the chamber having invested their time, their energy and their money in this process, I don't think we ever would've gotten San Ysidro accomplished."

Congressman Juan Vargas sat down with KPBS in Washington, D.C. for a one-on-one interview on the United-States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, ports of entry improvements and more.

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