Monroe News: Walberg talks Port of Monroe with Trump
As U.S. Rep Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, sat with President Donald Trump on Air Force One, he knew it was his chance to talk about a local agency’s ongoing customs battle.
Walberg, along with other Republican representatives from Michigan, was accompanying Trump Thursday to an event at Dana Inc. in Warren.
Trump was gearing up to talk about a newly-signed trade deal with Mexico and Canada. Walberg was thinking of the Port of Monroe.
For years he has worked with Port Director Paul LaMarre III to navigate shipping restrictions handed down by U.S. Customers and Border Patrol’s Detroit office.
The restrictions have limited the port’s ability to deal in international trade. They also are at odds with standards expected at neighboring Lake Erie ports, like Toledo and Cleveland, Walberg says, which makes it harder to generate funds to install additional security equipment.
“It’s not fair,” Walberg said. “The (Monroe port) is being given challenges that others aren’t.”
On Thursday, Walberg and the other representatives aboard Air Force came up with a strategy. They had a rare opportunity to discuss constituents’ concerns with the country’s top leader and they weren’t going to waste the moment.
They each selected issues tied to their district and briefly talked about them with the president.
“It was a tag-team effort,” Walberg said. “It was very effective.”
Though brief, Walberg was pleased with the response he received from Trump.
“He indicated to make sure (his team) knew about the issue and that we would discuss it further,” Walberg said.
It’s an interaction he knows will carry weight when he meets with Peter Navarro, assistant to the president and director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, to discuss the issue of shipping on the Great Lakes.
The meeting, which will occur in the near future, will be the latest in a series of gatherings brokered by officials to discuss disparate shipping standards levied by CBP’s different jurisdictions.
Late last year, Sen. Gary Peters was present at a meeting between LaMarre and some of CBP’s top officials. It was only the most recent of such meetings, which have done little to alleviate the pressure exerted on the Monroe seaport.
“We’ve talked with key individuals (at CBP) until we’re blue in the face,” Walberg said. ”... But that hasn’t dealt results yet.”
Walberg said he will continue to press the issue because the restrictions have a wider impact on the Great Lakes region.
Stifling trade and conflicting standards create an unequal playing field, which impacts millions of jobs and economic vitality, Walberg said. The conversation with Trump and his team exerts how wide-reaching the issue can be, he added.
“I’m going to take that as a real step forward,” Walberg said. ”... The port is a huge opportunity for not only Monroe, but also the entire shipping industry on the Great Lakes.”
At the local level, LaMarre is buoyed by the fact that awareness of the issue has reached the top of the country’s executive branch. The issue has battered the port, he said.
″... to know that our issue (with CBP) has reached the president’s ears can only be compared to a glimmer of sun peaking through the storm clouds at sea,” LaMarre said. “Hope is the powerful fuel I know, and today Walberg has refilled our tanks.”
Support from legislators has been monumental in dealing with the restriction, LaMarre added.
He has been in contact with Walberg regarding the port and its struggles since restrictions cut off several trade deals years ago, including a lucrative one that would have shipped Ford Mustangs to Europe via the Saint Lawrence Seaway.
Moving forward, LaMarre wants transparency as to why CBP’s restriction are necessary for Monroe’s port and the same level of scrutiny isn’t applied elsewhere.
″(CBP) is discriminating against the Port of Monroe and our community as a whole as we fight to remain economically sustainable,” LaMarre said. “Thanks to Walberg, new light has been shed on the issue ...”
This article originally appeared in the February 1 edition of the Monroe News.