The U.S. Department of Transportation today released preliminary details on a program that would again open up U.S. roadways to Mexican truckers.
Proponents of the program say it would be a boon to the Texas economy as three of Mexico’s top five trading partners are the ports of Laredo, El Paso and Houston. But unions and small business leaders across the country recoil at the initiative they claim will gut the domestic trucking industry and make the roadways here unsafe.
Today, tractor-trailers entering the United States from Mexico (and vice versa) are limited to traveling within a 20 mile to 25 mile radius of ports of entry, despite the cross-border, long-haul trucking program included as an original provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1994. A pilot program was launched in September 2007, but ended when President Barack Obama signed an omnibus bill in March 2009 that eliminated its funding. The Mexican government retaliated by imposing tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of American goods.
Under the new proposal, which the government says would last no more than 3 years, Mexican truckers would be asked to “proceed through a series of stages” before being permanently approved for international travel beyond the current limits. A carrier’s vehicles and drivers would be issued a provisional operating authority, and inspected by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration each time they enter the United States for at least 3 months. They would advance to a second stage after a favorable review and would receive a permanent authority after 18 months, pending an additional review. The carriers would also have to carry an insurance policy underwritten by a U.S. insurance or surety bond company and conform to environmental regulations, and drivers would be subject to a Department of Homeland Security screening.
Despite the scrutiny and a provision in the agreement that would grant U.S. trucks equal access in Mexico, the proposal is still bringing to a boil the frustrations of trucking associations that fear the move means fewer jobs for truckers here. They also allege the government is being bullied by Mexico.
“The onus is on Mexico to raise the safety, security and environmental standards for their trucking industry,” said Todd Spencer, the executive vice president of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “We should not allow ourselves to be harassed or blackmailed into lowering ours.”
Spencer said that despite the tariffs, tractor-trailer trade with Mexico increased by about 28 percent in 2010 to a total of $320.3 billion.
“They need to stop placating Mexico’s government and start fighting for the Americans they are supposed to represent,” he said.
The Department of Transportation’s proposed guidelines will be subject to a 30-day public comment period, which begins as soon as the notice is posted to the Federal Register. A trade official at the DOT said the posting may come as soon as next week, but is likely to be delayed if the U.S. Congress fails to come to a budget solution and prevent the shutdown of the federal government.