U.S. and Mexico inked a deal today that marks the end of a years-long dispute over how far past the border long-haul tractor-trailers can travel.
Currently tractor-trailers entering the U.S. from Mexico are limited to traveling within a 20 to 25-mile radius of ports of entry, as are U.S. trucks traveling in to Mexico. That comes 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 project launched in 2007 was suspended in 2009, which led the Mexican government to place costly tariffs on more than $2 billion in U.S. goods. Today’s agreement means those tariffs will be gradually eliminated, with 50 percent being rescinded in the first 10 days, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“The new program puts safety first and paves the way for Mexico to lift tariffs it imposed more than two years ago. Pursuant to an agreement signed by the United States Trade Representative and the Secretaría de Economía of the United Mexican States, Mexico will soon lift retaliatory tariffs on more than $2 billion in U.S. manufactured goods and agricultural products, providing opportunities to increase U.S. exports to Mexico and expanding job creation in the U.S,” the statement continues.
Mexican authorities say the remaining tariffs will be suspended 10 days after the first Mexican truck is granted provisional authority to operate on U.S. roadways. A DOT official who spoke on background said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would begin receiving applications from carriers now that the Federal Register Notice is public. Applicants would then be subject to FMCSA’s application-review process and other requirements before they would receive provisional operating authority.
Under the guidelines agreed to today, Mexican trucks must contain electronic-monitoring systems to ensure hours-of-service requirements. English-language tests and drug screenings will also be a requirement for applicants seeking greater access to U.S. roadways.
The move drew the chagrin of truckers’ unions, who have lashed out at the proposal since it was given new life earlier this year. They claim the move not only jeopardizes the safety of American motorists, but is also especially risky given Mexico’s current civil war that has pitted cartel groups against each other and law enforcement. The Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association accused the governments of acting in secret after learning of the agreement was signed with little advance notice.
“If the agreement is good for the U.S. why the hell is he [U.S Transportation Secretary LaHood] sneaking down there to sign it?” Jim Johnston, the president of OOIDA said in a statement. “Why not let the public see the details before signing the agreement? Seems like the Administration is dead set on caving to Mexico’s shakedown regardless of the costs to the American public and our tax coffers.”
The group also blasted the argument that the agreement benefits both countries, saying U.S. truckers know they are at risk if they travel in to Mexico.
“The association knows that most truckers refuse to haul loads into Mexico because of safety concerns, noting that the Department of State issues warnings against doing so on a regular basis,” the statement continues.
The Teamsters union said the policy was “probably illegal” because Congress has not given DOT the authority to grant permanent operating authority to Mexican truckers who successfully pass through the pilot program.
“Opening the border to dangerous trucks at a time of high unemployment and rampant drug violence is a shameful abandonment of the DOT’s duty to protect American citizens from harm and to spend American tax dollars responsibly,” Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said in a statement.
But Texas lawmakers applauded the move and what they see as its potential job creation.
“This agreement is great news for Texas producers and an important step to more open, transparent and efficient trade between the two countries,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. “Lower tariffs mean more jobs in the 28th District of Texas and throughout the country. This agreement will create more jobs and help increase the flow of goods and products that drive economic growth.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has also supported the measure in the past, and said when discussions revived in January that "it was time to take the brakes off."
The Port of Laredo, in Cuellar's district, ranks as the country’s busiest inland port. El Paso and Houston are also included on the list of Mexico’s top five trade destination. Mexico as a whole is the United States’ third-largest trade partner.