Sen. Patty Murray holding their “feet to the fire” for resolution of Mexican truck issue

WASHINGTON — A “frustrated” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., late Monday said she had included language in the Fiscal Year 2011 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill that calls on the Obama administration to put forward a plan that would end retaliatory tariffs on Washington state agricultural products by Oct. 1.

The bill passed the THUD subcommittee, which Murray chairs, as well as the full Appropriations committee, and will now head to the full Senate for consideration.

“I am extremely frustrated that the administration has not yet acted while farmers across my home state of Washington continue to suffer under Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs,” Murray said. “I am urging both the Obama administration and the Mexican government to solve this issue and allow Washington state farmers to compete on a level playing field. Since there has been inaction for too long, I included specific language in the transportation spending bill giving the administration a clear deadline of Oct. 1 to solve this problem.”

“We are committed to upholding our international obligations,” DOT spokesperson Olivia Alair, said when asked to comment on Murray’s deadline. “We are also committed to ensuring the safety of American roads and addressing any legitimate safety concerns raised by members of Congress.”

Murray has sparred with the administration repeatedly this year over the Mexico trucking situation.

The tariffs were the response of the Mexican government to the U.S. ending the cross border demonstration project in March 2009.

The project was a pilot program that allowed participating Mexican and U.S. trucking companies to travel into the others’ countries passed the commercial trade zone.

Congressional action killed the project, resulting in the retaliatory tariffs.

Twice this year during Congressional hearings, Murray has questioned Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about the lack of a replacement program, first in March and then again in May, and he responded that a replacement program was “very near.”

Then on May 28, Murray sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him move forward with a plan to end the tariffs.

Murray sent the letter after Obama met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. During the meeting, the two presidents discussed the tariffs Mexico has placed on U.S. products. Mexico has targeted eighty-seven Washington state products in this dispute and hundreds of jobs have been lost.

Prior to the meeting, Murray sent the president a letter urging him to use the meeting as an opportunity to work to end Mexican tariffs that have had a devastating impact on the Washington state farmers and families.
She has also spoken with senior White House officials to reemphasize that point.

Here is the language Murray placed in the bill:

“Administrative Provision-Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Section 135 subjects the funds in this act to section 350 of Public Law 107-87 in order to ensure the safety of all cross-border long-haul operations conducted by Mexican-domiciled commercial carriers.

“It is essential for the administration to establish a plan to resume cross-border trucking with Mexico in a way that addresses the safety concerns raised during the Department of Transportation’s earlier pilot and end the retaliatory tariffs imposed by the Mexican government.

The tariffs were imposed on more than 90 U.S. products, a burden that undermines the competitiveness of many agricultural products produced in the United States.

If the administration is unable to find a path forward with Mexico on this issue, these tariffs will continue to send American jobs to other countries, such as Canada, as growers, processors, and packers are forced to relocate. Such relocation threatens the livelihood of many American workers and further exacerbates the economic recession in communities across the nation. Continued delays in rectifying this trade issue are unacceptable.

The Committee directs the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Ambassador of the United States Trade Representative, no later than October 1, 2010, to establish and report on a proposal to implement a cross-border trucking program that maintains the safety of our roads and highways, enhances the efficient movement of commerce, and eliminates harmful and retaliatory tariffs on agricultural products.

“Additionally, the North American Free Trade Agreement requires that the United States and Mexico provide operating authority and reciprocal treatment for bus companies to provide domestic, intercity bus service and cross-border services. Mexico has refused to grant United States-owned bus companies comparable rights in Mexico, thus making it impossible for United States bus companies to compete with Mexican bus companies for cross-border traffic. Congress gave the President or his delegate the statutory authority (49 U.S.C. 13902 ©) to suspend or restrict the U.S. operations of passenger motor carriers owned by companies of a contiguous country which unreasonably restricts the operations of U.S.-owned companies. Since those circumstances exist now, the Committee believes that the President or his delegate should consider utilizing that authority unless Mexico immediately starts to provide reciprocal access and fair treatment to United States-owned bus companies. The discrimination against U.S. bus companies cannot continue.

The Committee directs the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Ambassador of the United States Trade Representative, to report to the House and Senate Committee on Appropriations no later than Oct. 1, 2010, on what actions the Department or other executive agencies are taking to rectify this issue.”

SOURCE: The Trucker