U.S.-Mexico trucking program still on hold

Nearly 30 Mexican trucking companies have passed safety inspections that would allow them to make deliveries to the U.S. heartland, but it still will take months before the first trial of cross-border trucking can begin. “What we’re waiting for now is for the Mexican government to review the applications they have for U.S. companies,” said Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Department.

But those reviews won’t allow the department to stick with a timeline it initially had proposed to implement a provision in the decade-old North American Free Trade Agreement. When it announced the cross-border trucking pilot program in February, the department suggested Mexican trucks could begin crossing into the United States as early as April.

The Mexican government released a statement Tuesday saying it wants the program to begin July 15, and full implementation of NAFTA’s cross-border trucking provisions to start within one year.

Mexico also said it wants the program implemented incrementally, with up to 25 carriers from each country gaining cross-border access every month through October.

“That must be the quickest they can move,” said John Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “They’ve been committed to accelerating the entrance of U.S. trucks into Mexico. Mexico is to be commended for moving ahead expeditiously.”

The United States agreed to a July 15 start date at a trilateral conference in Arizona last week, Hill said.

Mexican trucks haven’t been allowed to operate in this country since 1982, when U.S. motor carriers lost access to roads south of the border.

Under NAFTA, the United States, Mexico and Canada were to be open to truckers from all three countries by 2000. Years of legal and political battles have prevented that from happening.

Initially, Hill said, U.S. trucks were to gain access to Mexico six months after Mexican carriers were granted operating authority in the United States. On Monday, the Transportation Department issued a statement saying Mexican and U.S. trucks would gain access to one another’s countries simultaneously.

Though more than 800 Mexican carriers have applied for permission to operate in the United States, only 16 American companies have requested similar access in Mexico.

Opposition toward the pilot program has been mounting on both sides of the border.

An influential chamber of commerce representing Mexican carriers — the Cámara Nacional de Autotransportes del Carga, also known as CANACAR — is calling for the program’s suspension. The group says the program will increase transportation costs in Mexico and applies discriminatory regulations on its trucks.

“The Mexican truckers are worried that if this border opens, U.S. firms … (will) simply take over the trucking industry in Mexico,” said Jim Giermanski, a NAFTA expert with Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina and CEO of a firm specializing in cross-border security issues.

In the United States, the Teamsters union continues to lobby against cross-border trucking, saying it’s a danger to U.S. motorists.

Those favoring opening the border have dismissed the argument as a thinly veiled opposition to greater competition, which would reduce costs for transportation and would increase North America’s competitiveness.

Congressional leaders have proposed legislation that would suspend funding for the pilot program. President Bush this week vetoed a supplemental spending bill that included the legislation.

On Wednesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved a bill that if approved would make major changes to the program. The legislation would allow a maximum of 1,000 Mexican trucks and passenger buses to have access to U.S. roads for up to three years.

“This bill limits the authority of the secretary of transportation to open the United States-Mexico border,” Democratic committee Chairman James Oberstar of Minnesota said in a statement. “It allows the United States to live up to its commitments under the North American Free Trade Agreement while putting in place robust requirements and protections to safeguard travelers on our roads.”

This post is part of the thread: Mexico Cross Border Pilot Program – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.