Cross-border trucking re-examined

Published March, 30 2009

U.S. leaders sought to improve relations with Mexico and reinvent the cross-border trucking program last week after ending the controversial project that spawned tariffs.

Mexico has responded to the United State’s closure of the two-year-old program by imposing $2.4 billion in trade retaliation.

On March 11, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration terminated the cross-border project after President Obama signed the $411 billion appropriations bill, containing language ending the program. The project, which drew low participation from Mexican truckers, had been the subject of congressional hearings and lawsuits.

Raymond LaHood, U.S. Department of Transportation secretary, was on Capitol Hill last week working with congressional members toward creating a new trucking project. Obama has tasked the DOT, the U.S. Trade Representative, the state department, congressional leaders and Mexican officials to propose legislation for “a new trucking project that will meet the legitimate concerns of Congress and our NAFTA commitments,” according to a DOT statement.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton answered questions on the trucking issue during her trip to Mexico that ended March 26. Clinton said the two countries would resolve the issue, but that it was not the only problem being examined, as both nations need to secure the violence-strewn border.

“But we shouldn’t just take Mexico trucking and act as though that’s the only issue that we have to worry about going across our border,” she said.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has asked Obama to suspend any immediate plans to replace the cross-border program. Mexico’s regulatory standards should meet the requirements of the rest of North America before its trucks do business beyond the border zone, the association said.

OOIDA President Jim Johnston said the North American Free Trade Agreement does not require the United States to make exemptions for safety and security.

“Thus, one country may not treat service providers from another country any less favorably than it would ‘in like circumstances’ treat its own or another country’s service providers,” Johnston said, concerning the treaty.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who had opposed the pilot project, wrote President Obama March 25 urging him to take action against what he considers Mexico’s “illegal” tariffs on more than 90 U.S. export products.

“The tariffs, which are illegal under NAFTA, are in retaliation to the overwhelming votes by Congress to end the Mexican Cross Boarder Trucking Pilot Program,” DeFazio said. “Several of the tariffs are aimed at products produced in my district and the products from the districts of other members of Congress who have been actively opposed to the pilot program.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked his state’s congressional delegation to restore the trade relationship with Mexico, California’s largest trading partner.

“I believe the White House is committed to a new long-haul trucking program,” he said. “But it cannot happen without action from Congress, and I am writing to ask that California’s representatives immediately take the lead in restoring a program to allow Mexican trucks to safely operate within the United States and allow Mexico to remove the retaliatory tariffs it has put in place.”

On the other side of the fence, the American Farm Bureau Federation has asked President Obama for “quick development and implementation of a cross-border trucking program” in hope of ending trade sanctions against U.S. farm products by Mexico.