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.
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
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.
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.