San Diego Union Tribune

May 3, 2007

Mexico OKs July entry for long-haul U.S. trucks

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – U.S. trucks will be allowed to cross into Mexico starting July 15 – months earlier than previously expected – as part of a controversial cross-border trucking initiative.

For the first time, the announcement by Mexican officials provides a start date for a long-delayed, one-year experiment to open the U.S.-Mexico border to long-haul truck traffic. The program is a prelude to opening the border to truck traffic as required by the North American Free Trade Agreement.


 

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Amid criticism that it was unfair to allow Mexican drivers to cross the border before their U.S. counterparts, U.S. officials said earlier this week that they were delaying the program until Mexico was ready to allow U.S. trucks to cross.

The delay and other changes in the program announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation were not enough to satisfy a congressional committee, which voted 66-0 yesterday in favor of a bill that would require additional safeguards in the program.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., sponsor of the measure approved by the House Transportation Committee, said it would “put much more scrutiny on this program than was proposed by the administration.”

Transportation officials reacted to the bill's approval by insisting they had met all the conditions laid out by Congress in 2001.

“It is time to stop delaying a program that will be good for the American economy and implement the law that Congress passed 14 years ago,” the agency said in a statement.

Overview

The issue: The North American Free Trade Agreement calls for the U.S.-Mexico border to be open to long-haul truckers from both countries, but U.S. critics have delayed implementation for more than a decade with safety concerns.

What's changing: Mexican officials said U.S. truckers would be allowed into the country on July 15, which could be the start date of a one-year experiment in cross-border trucking.

The future: Congressional critics say they will continue to press legislation that would set more stringent requirements for the test program. In addition, a federal lawsuit has been filed that could delay it.

The bill includes several provisions written by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, including one that would require the government to enforce an English language proficiency standard for Mexican truckers.

Another Hunter provision would delay the program until the Department of Transportation's inspector general certifies that it complies with federal laws and that the agency is prepared to enforce those laws.

The legislation also would extend the test program to three years and require the transportation secretary to report to Congress on its results.

The bill faces an uncertain future because House leaders have not said whether they will allow it to be considered by the full House.

The Mexican government said 25 carriers from each country would be authorized to send trucks across the border starting July 15.

Another 25 would be certified each month until 100 carriers from each country are approved to cross the border by Oct. 15.

Opponents of the program contend U.S. authorities have not provided enough evidence showing that Mexican drivers and their trucks will be able to operate safely on U.S. roads.

The Bush administration insists the program – requiring the inspection of Mexican carriers before they are allowed to cross the border – ensures that Mexican truck drivers will meet the same standards as U.S. truckers.

Under the program, Mexican drivers could transport a load from Mexico anywhere in the United States. Current rules allow Mexican truck drivers to go no farther than 25 miles inside the country.

Mexican truckers would be barred from competing with U.S. truckers in delivering loads from one location to another within the United States.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994, requires that the border be opened to truck traffic from both countries.

President Clinton initially delayed the border opening because of safety concerns. Congressional opposition and lawsuits have kept it closed since then.
 

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