San Diego Union Tribune

April 27, 2007

Mexican truckers' free travel put on hold

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration appears to be delaying the start of a one-year experiment that would allow 100 Mexican carriers access to U.S. highways for the first time since 1982.

 

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Congressional critics of the plan said they have been told by U.S. Department of Transportation officials that the administration will comply with proposed legislation to delay the program until U.S. truckers receive the equivalent right to travel throughout Mexico.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a sponsor of the measure, was informed about the change in plans this week.

“We were told the department would comply with the legislation even though there has not been an announcement,” said Feinstein spokesman Scott Gerber. “If that's the case, Sen. Feinstein thinks that's great news.”

The measure, also sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is part of a larger emergency spending bill that won passage in Congress this week.

The bill faces an uncertain future. President Bush has vowed to veto it because it contains a timetable for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq.

Melissa DeLaney, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, declined yesterday to confirm or deny that the agency will delay the program. She said the administration remains committed to opening the border and continues to work with congressional critics to address their concerns.

Critics, including Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, contend that the administration has not proved that Mexican truck drivers will meet the same safety standards as U.S. carriers. Current rules allow Mexican truck drivers to go no farther than 25 miles inside the country.

The administration says the program is safe.

Another complaint is that U.S. drivers would not be granted access to Mexican roads until up to six months after the program begins.

As recently as last week, U.S. transportation officials said they were pressing forward with the program and expected to certify the first Mexican carriers by early May. DeLaney said yesterday she could not predict when the program would start.

The North American Free Trade Agreement allows Mexican truckers to operate throughout the United States and for U.S. truckers to have access in Mexico, but delays have been brought on by congressional critics and lawsuits.

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