Resolution to Mexican Truck issue “very close” according to LaHood

Mexican trucks traveling north on Mexico 85 from Monterrey into Nuevo Laredo in this photo taken on Cinco de Mayo 2010
Mexican trucks traveling north on Mexico 85 from Monterrey into Nuevo Laredo in this photo taken on Cinco de Mayo 2010
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood Thursday told a Senate subcommittee than the Obama administration’s intention was to restart the Cross Border Demonstration Project with Mexico and that a new proposal would be presented to senators “very soon” and that it was even “very close.”

Two months ago, LaHood told the same panel that a new proposal was “very near.”
LaHood’s comments Thursday came during questioning from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

LaHood and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan were testifying before a subcommittee on an Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Thursday afternoon, a DOT spokesperson said she couldn’t provide a specific timetable on presentation of a new plan.

Murray, whose questioning of LaHood two months ago elicited the “very near” prediction, took the opportunity to bring up the issue again.

“Back in March, I urged you and the administration to move quickly to craft a plan to resume cross-border trucking with Mexico in a way that would address the safety concerns raised during the pilot and end the tariffs imposed by the Mexican government,” Murray said to LaHood Thursday. “You told this subcommittee that a resolution would be forthcoming ‘soon.’ Mr. Secretary, you should know that the effects of the Mexican tariffs have been absolutely devastating to farmers and families in my home state of Washington and across the country. The tariffs undermine our farmers’ competitiveness — and they are killing jobs and devastating communities.

“In the two months since you last appeared before this subcommittee, the ConAgra potato processing plant in Prosser, Washington shut down — eliminating hundreds of good paying jobs,” Murray told LaHood.

“And if we don’t address this problem soon, this will just be the beginning; thousands more jobs in Washington state and across the country are in serious jeopardy of being shipped outside our borders,” she said.

LaHood told Murray that since the program was killed by Congress in March 2009, the DOT had worked “very hard” with the White House and members of the cabinet to come up with a new program.

“We will be announcing it very soon and we will come to Capitol Hill and brief every senator that has an interest in what it says and get feedback,” LaHood responded. “President Obama’s administration’s intention is to restart this program. It’s a part of NAFTA. It needs to be restarted and we believe if it is restarted these tariffs will be lifted which we know have had a devastating effect, not only on the state of Washington, but on many other states across the country.

“I sat down this week with the Mexican Ambassador to the United States because I wanted to make sure he knew how harmful his country’s tariffs were to families in Washington state. We’re very close to briefing you and other senators …”

Murray interrupted.

“Is very close sooner than soon?” she asked.

“It is closer than soon,” LaHood responded.

Murray reminded LaHood that earlier this week, she’d met with Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan to discuss the impacts the tariffs were having on Washington state.

“I told him that I feel very strongly that Washington state farmers and families shouldn’t be punished for a diplomatic dispute they had nothing to do with,” she told LaHood. “And he told me that Mexico’s president planned on bringing this issue up in meetings with President Obama later this month when Mexican President Felipe Calderon visits the nation’s Capitol next week.”

As LaHood ended his comments Thursday, Murray said: “This is very important to us so I will stay in touch with you. We are hoping with the president coming this month we can have a resolution to this.”

“Yes, thank you,” LaHood responded.