In late February, the US government announced a pilot program to allow some Mexican trucks full access to US roads and highways. The decision is another step toward resolving a longstanding dispute between the two countries and could move the US closer to compliance with the transportation provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The issue is far from settled, however, as labor organizations, citizen groups, and other opponents who blocked such efforts in the past have vowed to do so again.
The US Department of Transportation (DOT), which will administer the pilot program, will initially allow 100 Mexican trucking companies full access to US highways, effective April 23. Mexican truck drivers are currently allowed to transit only 20 miles into US territory. If successful, the program could later be expanded to include additional trucking companies.
Program sets strict guidelines
As part of the pilot program, the DOT has developed a set of strict guidelines for trucking companies wishing to participate. US inspectors will require drivers to produce a valid commercial license, insurance documents, and proof of a clean driving record. In addition, drivers will be interviewed to ensure they are able to read and speak English.
Inspectors will also examine trucks to verify that they are in good operating condition and that the trucking companies are insured by US-licensed firms.
The guidelines are modeled after similar proposals worked out by President George W. Bush's government and Congress in 2001. Those regulations were developed after a NAFTA dispute-resolutions panel ruled that the US was obligated to open its roads to Mexican truck drivers (see SourceMex, 2001-01-24, 2001-02-14 and 2001-12-05).
Under terms of NAFTA, the US was scheduled to open its highways to Mexican truckers in January 1995. But former US President Bill Clinton's administration decided not to comply with this provision, arguing that a wide difference between Mexican and US truck guidelines could compromise the safety of US roads (see SourceMex, 1994-02-23, 1996-01-17, and 1997-02-05).
In 1998, the Mexican government requested the creation of the NAFTA panel (see SourceMex, 1998-09-23 and 2000-01-19). Although the NAFTA panel ruled in favor of Mexico, the US did not take immediate steps to open its roads to Mexican trucks other than to announce the safety guidelines. The delay came in part because of a lawsuit filed by a coalition of labor, industry, and environmental groups, which asked that any opening be postponed because the administration had failed to conduct an environmental-impact study (see SourceMex, 2002-12-11). The coalition--comprising the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Environmental Law Foundation, and Public Citizen--was supported by a US Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the Bush administration must conduct an environmental-impact study before allowing Mexican trucks deeper into US territory.
The Bush administration then brought the matter to the US Supreme Court, which overruled the lower court's decision (see SourceMex, 2004-05-12 and 2004-06-09).
Even with the favorable ruling from the high court, the Bush government delayed any action on truck access, partly because US officials had already decided to place a higher priority on security measures along the US-Mexico border following the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon in 2001 (see SourceMex, 2001-09-26) and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 (see SourceMex, 2003-04-02).
The Bush government finally decided to act in early 2007, following a series of consultations with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who took office in December 2006. Bush and Calderon will further discuss the transportation issue at a summit in Mexico City on March 12-14, said the Mexico City business newspaper El Economista.
In announcing the pilot program in February, the Bush administration cited the benefits to the US and Mexican business sectors, which will now be able to ship their goods on a single carrier instead of having to transfer shipments in US border cities. …