Looking back over my regular commentaries on border affairs, I’m afraid that from time to time I’ve given readers the impression that things are all doom and gloom on the border. From my writings on lines that are too long, infrastructure that is too old and budgets that are too tight, one might think that our borders with Canada and Mexico are just giant parking lots of trucks and cars going nowhere.

But you know what? There are a lot of good things happening on the border.

No longer just the domain of think tanks and associations, policy solutions (that address border challenges) from Congress and the White House are gaining traction.

- Nelson Balido

Let’s start with the fact that despite concerns over staff and facilities and sequestration furloughs, no one would care were it not for the strong trade levels with our NAFTA partners. Consider that since 1994, the year of NAFTA’s implementation, U.S. exports to Mexico have nearly tripled, meaning job growth here at home, which in turns leads to buying power that has seen U.S. imports rise by more than three and a half times in that same period.  

To provide a clearer picture to what this partnership represents, those U.S. exports to Mexico are larger than to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) combined, as well as sales to Great Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, representing part of the $1.2+ billion dollars in trade per day.  

Twenty-two states count Mexico as their number 1 or 2 export trading partner and a top 5 partner for 14 other states. 

The U.S. imports millions from Mexico in terms of automotive, produce, petroleum and others, but for every dollar Mexico spends it reciprocates by spending over 50 cents on U.S. products and services which underlines the joint economic relationship we share sustaining nearly 7 million jobs in the U.S. Now you would never know that, because Mexico does a terrible job about telling their story – something they should take note of!

On the other hand, the U.S. and Canada enjoy the largest binational trade relationship on the globe. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected and where trade equals survival, we are incredibly fortunate to be at the top of the trade ladder. U.S. exports to Canada in 2012 were valued at $292.4 billion, while imports were at $324.2 billion.

Next, consider that policy recommendations for addressing border challenges are emerging at the highest levels of government. No longer just the domain of think tanks and associations, policy solutions from Congress and the White House are gaining traction.

For example, although it was lost in last month’s dust up over the administration’s leak of its immigration proposal to USA Today, the White House plan discusses allowing the Department of Homeland Security to accept private sector donations to improve land ports of entry. The concept builds on legislation recently introduced by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, which would direct the General Services Administration, the major border facility landlord, to explore public-private deals for border infrastructure.

These proposals combined with a Department of Homeland Security task force examining ways to inject private investment into the border are signs that policymakers recognize the importance of a border that is secure and efficient.

Finally, there are positive things happening at a state level, too, where unfortunately legislatures have sometimes put forth proposals that have failed to consider the border’s impact on a state’s economic success.

In California, a pro-border trade resolution just passed an Assembly committee and is headed to the floor. In Arizona, two prominent state senators came to the aid of U.S.-Mexico produce trade in the recent battle over a tomato dumping agreement between the two countries. 

In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez and the Legislature have put tremendous focus on the border, working together to eliminate a locomotive fuel tax and amend truck cargo weight rules, leading to a $400 million rail hub and huge spikes at the Columbus and Santa Teresa ports of entry. And in Texas, a new Freight Advisory Committee, that I was recently appointed to, will develop a statewide freight mobility plan with the input of public and private sector stakeholders, many of whom have border experience and insight.

There’s always plenty to get discouraged about on the border. But with a little looking, you’ll find that there is a lot of innovation, cooperation and facilitation happening. I’ll try to take my own advice and look on the bright side of the border more often.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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