New Mexico sees an opening to poach Mexican trade from Texas

Behind the scenes in Santa Teresa, N.M., what some might mistake as a sleepy border town might well be ground zero in a push to bypass Texas altogether when it comes to getting goods into the U.S. – and as the president of Mexico sees it, a way to get around Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, too.

By Rhonda Fanning & David BrownAugust 30, 2022 4:09 pm,

Santa Teresa, N.M., is a tiny town of about 5,000 people. There’s not much housing around, the most prominent retailers are the Family Dollar and the Dollar General, and if you’re looking for food options, the best might well be the fried chicken counter inside a gas station.

But behind the scenes, what some might mistake as a sleepy border town might well be ground zero in a push to bypass Texas altogether when it comes to getting goods into the U.S. – and as the president of Mexico sees it, a way to get around Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, too.

Shelly Hagan, one of two reporters covering this story for Bloomberg, joined the Texas Standard to share more.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Santa Teresa is a relatively quiet border town, as you describe it. But you report it could be on its way to becoming a major point of entry to the U.S. as an alternative to Texas. Who’s behind this and why?

Shelly Hagan: Well, certainly New Mexico has really been pushing this for a while in the past few years. They really tried to make international trade a priority in economic development and economic growth for the state. And, of course, they have had to compete with the border town of El Paso in Texas, which is only about 30 miles away from Santa Teresa. There’s already a large amount of commercial traffic and trade that goes through the Texas southern border. But New Mexico sees that as a way to also kind of take advantage of what may be very congested ports in Texas. And perhaps they can try and garner some of that trade and bring in trade from their ports, which is less busy and perhaps provide even cheaper real estate options for companies looking to have warehouses and distribution areas.

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Apparently this has taken on new urgency in the wake of Gov. Abbott’s crackdown at the border. The president of Mexico seems to be looking for alternatives to passage through Texas, right? 

Yes. So Mexico’s federal government was not happy when Governor Abbott did order more truck inspections at the border, because it caused a lot of delays. And so they actually threatened that they were going to reroute a rail line, that they had planned to go up through Canada and cross into the U.S. through Texas. They said they were going to actually plan that rail line through New Mexico instead. And then they’re also saying that they’re going to invest in their roads on the opposite side of Santa Teresa. The Mexico side of that border is called San Geronimo. They said they’re going to invest in that area and hoping to bring in more business to use that port.

How far along is Santa Teresa when it comes to being a major port of entry? You would have to have warehouses; you’d have to have a population to support Santa Teresa becoming a major port of entry. How far along is it?

So right now, it’s still a pretty small port, especially when you compare it to the other ports in Texas. Right now, commercial traffic is only about one-fifth or one-sixth of what El Paso sees. There are some distribution warehouses, a few industrial parks in Santa Teresa. And on the Mexican side, actually, Foxconn – they’re a big electronic parts maker for Dell computers and HP computers – they do have a big facility that uses the Santa Teresa port.

And actually, industry leaders in the area say that Santa Teresa may do best at really what they consider specialized freight because it is a land border, and all of the Texas borders are bridges because they have to cross over the Rio Grande River. So a land bridge has a lot more advantages. They can take those wind blades across it that are used in wind farms because they can kind of make the roads however they want.

Given all of this, what does the Texas governor have to say about these plans? 

The Texas governor, you know, says that they’re very proud of Texas economic development and that the border inspections they did actually he was able to make agreements with all of the Mexican state governors – Chihuahua, etc. He said they were able to really increase their border security and come to agreement. So he didn’t touch on the New Mexico part of the story, but rather said good came out of the fact that he increased those truck inspections and has now touted that he’s made the border more secure.

How far off are they from establishing this as a major international port of entry? 

Well, it’s hard to say, but it definitely looks like it’ll be several years out, as this has been a long time in the works for many people.

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