San Diego Union Tribune

August 18, 2007

Agency backs opening border to long-haul Mexican trucks

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – A federal transportation agency yesterday defended President Bush's plan to open the border to long-haul Mexican truck traffic in a response to overwhelmingly negative public views of the proposal.

The 27-page defense appearing in the Federal Register advances the controversial cross-border trucking pilot program one step closer to implementation.

Online: To read the full government report, click on: http://www.access.gpo.gov/ su_docs/fedreg/ a070817c.html

Scroll down to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and click on link to "NAFTA cross-border trucking provisions."

Bush has sought to conduct the program as part of his effort to comply with a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement requiring the United States and Mexico to open their borders to each other's commercial trucks.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which would conduct the program, acknowledged that the vast majority of the more than 2,300 public comments it received were opposed to the proposed one-year experiment.

But the agency argued that it is committed to making sure Mexican truck drivers obey all U.S. rules and regulations during the trial. The program would allow up to 100 Mexican carriers to send trucks into the United States.

Opponents – including the Teamsters union, other trucking and safety organizations and dozens of lawmakers – contend that Mexican drivers would pose a hazard on U.S. highways and would displace American truck drivers because they work for lower wages.


 

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Currently, Mexican trucks can only travel within a 25-mile border zone in the United States. U.S. trucks are barred from entering Mexico.

The agency sought public comment last June, after making changes to the pilot program to comply with additional safeguards mandated by Congress in an emergency spending bill.

The agency responded to critics' worries that Mexican truck drivers, unlike their American counterparts, are not required to comply with rules limiting their driving time or mandating drug and alcohol testing, among other issues.

U.S. officials said that since 2000, Mexican truckers have been required to keep logbooks showing how long they have been on the road in case they are pulled over.

The drivers are limited to eight hours of driving during the day and seven hours at night, the government said. They also can accumulate up to three hours of overtime a day, three times a week.

The agency said it has “extensive experience” enforcing the hours-of-service rules for Mexican carriers who drive within the restricted border zone.

While Mexico does not require drug and alcohol tests, officials said the pilot program requires Mexican truckers certified to drive in the United States to undergo the testing.

“Because there presently are no U.S.-certified collection facilities and laboratories in Mexico, Mexico-domiciled long-haul carriers must comply by using collection facilities and certified laboratories in the United States, just as their border commercial zone counterparts have done for a decade,” the Federal Register report said.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a national trade association representing small trucking companies, criticized the administration for proceeding with its plans despite widespread opposition.

“They are determined to open our highways to Mexico-domiciled trucking companies and truck drivers regardless of the concerns that have been raised by Congress and the American people,” said Todd Spencer, the organization's executive vice president.

U.S. officials said they plan to implement the program as soon as they receive a required report from the Department of Transportation's inspector general and address any concerns raised in the report.

A spokeswoman for the inspector general declined to say when the report would be released.

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