The US and Mexico are close to resolving their long-standing dispute regarding access of Mexican trucks to US highways, and they are also working on a compromise that would eventually allow Mexican tuna greater access to the US market. US Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk addressed the two issues with Mexican officials, including President Felipe Calderon, during a three-day visit to Mexico City.
Pilot program for Mexican truckers could resume in 2010
Kirk and Mexican Economy Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Mateos said they were optimistic that the trucking issue could be resolved sometime in 2010, as the US Congress has agreed to restore a mechanism to fund a pilot program allowing qualified Mexican truck drivers to operate in the interior of the US. Under the program, conceived during the administration of ex-US President George W. Bush, Mexican truck drivers who meet strict training, documentation, insurance, and language requirements would be allowed to haul cargo anywhere in the US (see SourceMex, 2007-02-28). The pilot program partly appeased the Mexican government, which had complained that the US failure to allow full access to its truck drivers violated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The US Congress--responding to concerns from US labor and environmental organizations about safety, pollution, and other issues--consistently blocked funding for the pilot program, preventing the Bush administration from fully implementing the initiative (see SourceMex, 2007-09-12 and 2008-07-23). In March 2009, the US Senate voted to eliminate funding for the pilot program altogether, prompting Mexico to retaliate by slapping restrictions on dozens of US products (see SourceMex, 2009-03-11 and 2009-03-25).
Kirk said US President Barack Obama's administration has been working behind the scenes for months to resolve differences with the US Congress on the trucking issue and has reached an agreement to change the language that would restore funding for the pilot program. "We have been able to work with Congress, and President Obama is very pleased that the language in the 2009 appropriations bill--that essentially cut off the funding for the demonstration-safety program--was not included in the 2010 appropriations bill," Kirk told Reuters in an interview.
"By removing that prohibitory language, we just now have a green light to engage Congress again more thoughtfully," the US trade official noted.
Kirk said that the retaliatory actions by Mexico in 2009 might have had some sway with the US Congress. "I can tell you that those industries in the United States, our farmers, our ranchers, our other exporters that have been subject of the retaliation, have made their displeasure known to Congress and so there is a sense of urgency," Kirk said.
Resumption of the pilot program will allow the two countries to enter discussions on a plan that would give Mexican truck drivers more permanent access to the US, which prompted Ruiz Mateos to express optimism that an agreement with the US was possible in the near term. In a joint press conference with Kirk in Mexico City, Ruiz Mateos said that the two countries were continuing consultations on the dispute and that a solution "will surely occur this year."
US seeks solution to tuna dispute outside WTO, NAFTA