In 1993, a small delegation from San Antonio arrived in D.C. hoping to catch the ear of a few legislators. They were not well-known politicians like the people they would meet, nor were they executive businessmen who could afford not to worry about the cost of their trip, which they paid for themselves. Chamber Chairman Al Martinez-Fonts, Jr. knew this, and it is exactly why he asked this grassroots band of San Antonians to travel to the nation’s capital with him.
Those that went along were overjoyed to do so, as most of them were small business owners who, besides being excited to see the nation’s capital, truly believed that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was worth fighting for. As for Martinez-Fonts, he was there on behalf of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce to inform representatives of the impact the trade agreement would have on one of the cities that would be most affected by it. Being so closely entwined with the Mexican community, culture, and commerce, San Antonio was uniquely poised to benefit from NAFTA, and Martinez-Fonts, along with his team of small business owners, were dedicated to make sure everyone in congress knew exactly just that.
The document was initialed in San Antonio just a few months prior by representatives from Canada, Mexico, and the United States, with the heads of state from each country smiling in attendance. The only remaining step for the U.S. before NAFTA could be enacted was ratification by the House and Senate. It would still be many months before Congress was forced to make a decision, a process which was hurried along thanks to Martinez-Fonts’s earlier lobbying efforts to get NAFTA fast-track authority.
With NAFTA less than a year away from either dying on the House floor or going on to become a living, breathing document, Martinez-Fonts and the San Antonio delegation remained in D.C., expending every bit of their energy to breathe life into bill. After their meeting with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the delegation spread out across the various congressional offices to talk with representatives about NAFTA. After this, the delegation returned to San Antonio, where more efforts were planned to lobby for the passage of the pact.
On November 17, 1993, NAFTA passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law on December 8 by President Clinton, going into effect at the start of the New Year. The rest is history, but more than 25 years later, San Antonio and your Chamber’s impact on free trade in North America remains more than just a source of pride, but a core principle of our organization’s mission and agenda.