WASHINGTON – Mexican
trucks are poised to begin rolling freely throughout the
United States within weeks despite long-standing
opposition from lawmakers and others who fear that opening
the border poses a risk to motorists and a threat to
U.S. transportation officials say they are going ahead
with a one-year demonstration project that would allow 100
Mexican trucking companies to haul cargo throughout the
country for the first time in 25 years.
Despite pending legislation to block the Mexican
trucks, Congress appears unlikely to act fast enough to
block the program.
“At least on the House side, there doesn't appear to be
any momentum toward any kind of fast-moving legislation to
stop the program,” said Jim Berard, a spokesman for the
majority on the House Transportation and Infrastructure
The Bush administration is confident the program will
go forward despite opposition from some lawmakers.
“We expect to give the first (Mexican trucking) company
authority to operate approximately the end of April or
early May,” said Ian Grossman, a U.S. Transportation
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, D-Calif., have introduced legislation to delay
the program until certain safety conditions and other
requirements are met.
The powerful Teamsters Union and several highway safety
groups say the administration has failed to prove that
Mexican haulers are prepared to meet the same driver and
vehicle safety standards as their U.S. counterparts.
“They're in the Dark Ages as compared to where American
truckers are,” said Fred McLuckie, legislative director
for the Teamsters.
The administration insists it has put in place a
rigorous inspection and certification program requiring
all Mexican drivers to meet all U.S. safety requirements
before they drive beyond the border region.
U.S. inspection teams have been evaluating Mexican
trucking firms applying for certification since late
February, Grossman said. So far, they have visited 27
companies but have not certified any of them yet.
Since 1982, Mexican trucks have been restricted to
travel no further than about 25 miles inside the U.S.
border, where they must transfer their cargo to U.S.
NAFTA provisions to open the border to trucks in 1995
were delayed first by the Clinton administration and later
by congressional action and litigation.
A U.S. Supreme Court reversal of a lower court decision
in 2004 gave the go-ahead to opening the border.
The Teamsters union is pinning its hopes on stopping
the program through a provision Feinstein inserted in the
pending bill to fund continuing military operations in
Iraq, McLuckie said.
“We're racing against the clock,” he said. McLuckie
said the U.S. Transportation Department “seems just
hellbent on moving forward with this program.”
Feinstein's provision would halt the program until
American truckers have equal access to Mexican roads and
would require it to comply with federal rules applying to
But the spending measure in which it is contained faces
an uncertain future, as President Bush has vowed to veto
it unless a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from
Iraq is removed. Bush also has told Congress to remove
extraneous provisions from the bill.
Feinstein issued a statement after her office was
notified the administration was moving forward with the
Urging the administration to reconsider, she said the
“arrangement is patently unfair if Mexican trucks are
given access to our markets many months ahead of American
trucks gaining access to Mexico.”
American negotiators agreed to give the Mexican
government up to six months after the program starts to
open the border to American trucks.
Teamster attorneys are looking into the possibility of
suing the federal government on grounds that the program
must comply with federal rules for pilot programs,
Before undertaking a pilot program, the government must
publish its details in the Federal Register and seek
public comment. Officials also must develop a plan that
includes enough participants to produce what the law calls
statistically valid findings.
Administration officials say the one-year truck
demonstration is not a “pilot” program since its purpose
does not include evaluating alternatives to existing
regulations – one of the ways pilot programs are described
in the law.
“There's no relief from regulations here,” said
Grossman of the Transportation Department. “It's all the
same regulations – in fact in some cases more regulations
for these companies.”
In the House, Hunter's proposal has attracted two dozen
co-sponsors, but it lacks the backing of Transportation
Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn.
Committee spokesman Berard said the committee is likely
to take up a bill dealing with Mexican trucking sometime
in May. But even if such a bill won approval from the
committee, it would face an uncertain future in the full
House and Senate.
Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said that if Hunter's bill
became law after cross-border trucking began, it could be
used to shut down the program until the legislation's
conditions were met.
Gary Clyde Hufbauer, an economist at the Peter G.
Peterson Institute for International Economics, said
another way opponents might be able to halt the program is
by attaching conditions to a “fast-track” trade authority
bill sought by the president.
But he doubts such a provision would gain enough
support in Congress unless opponents “can find some huge
mischief” resulting from the program, such as drug
smuggling or an accident involving a Mexican truck.
Hufbauer supports opening the border to Mexican trucks
and said any further delays would be a blow to NAFTA.
“This absence of straight-shot trucking is the biggest
single barrier now that is limiting trade between the U.S.
and Mexico,” he said.