Cross-border trucking still faces stiff opposition


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The latest plan to let Mexican trucks cross the U.S. border to deliver goods to the heartland is facing the same kind of obstacles that stalled earlier efforts.

The renewal of the dispute reflects how difficult it can be for governments to meet international obligations, even those contained in a treaty, in the face of opposition from determined interest groups.

The American people "will pay the price" for "an incompetent agency, serious safety deficits with Mexican trucks at the border, and the use of a pilot program," said Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a public interest group in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters announced Feb. 23 a one-year pilot program to allow about 1,000 trucks from 100 Mexican companies to start hauling freight into the United States, as soon as the end of April.
Safety Concerns

Full cross-border trade was supposed to open by 1995, under a provision of NAFTA. U.S. President Bill Clinton first blocked access because of safety concerns. U.S. President George W. Bush´s administration tried again in 2001, only to see Congress add 22 safety requirements.

This year´s shift in control of Congress to the Democrats means the pilot program faces even stiffer opposition. The House and Senate already have held oversight hearings. One senator accused Peters of withholding information about the program.

Peters assured the committees that the government now has the proper standards in place to allow big Mexican rigs to carry goods safely into the country.

U.S. carriers are scheduled to receive equal privileges in Mexico in about six months.

The department said it plans to audit every Mexican carrier and inspect the trucks that will be accepted into the pilot program. Buses and trucks carrying hazardous materials aren´t part of the test. And Mexican carriers aren´t allowed to make deliveries between American cities.
No Comment, Period

In announcing the plan, the department sidestepped its usual rulemaking procedure, so the new program wouldn´t have to undergo the usual time-consuming comment period.

A key issue remains whether administration officials already have decided that a full opening of the border is safe.
John Hill, administrator of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is implementing the program, said, "There is no plan at this point."

Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon and a member of the House subcommittee on highways and transit, said he has a hard time believing that. At a March 13 hearing, he referred to a memo signed by U.S. and Mexican officials last fall that said at the end of the 12-month period that a "full and permanent opening of the border is foreseen."

Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, chastised Peters in a March 14 letter for not alerting the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation about the announcement of the pilot program.
Not Binding

Transportation officials said they had no intention of making that memo a binding document. The administration simply seized the moment, after Mexico recently agreed to let U.S. inspectors audit trucks in Mexico, to announce the program.

"No final decision will be made about next steps until a thorough evaluation of the demonstration project is completed," said Ian Grossman, a spokesman for the motor carrier safety office.

Supporters of the administration plan include trade groups representing U.S. trucking companies and U.S. shippers.

John Ficker, president and chief executive officer of the National Industrial Transportation League, a Washington-based trade group representing some 600 shippers, said the government should live up to its NAFTA obligations. He also said Mexican carriers "should subscribe to any of the rules that apply to a U.S.- based carrier, including safety. Period."
Less U.S. Interest

A few U.S. trucking companies already have set up shop in Mexico. Others said they are having doubts about traveling south of the border.

Contract Freighters Inc., a privately owned, non-union company in Joplin, Missouri, has been shipping goods into Mexico for 20 years. That trade now accounts for 40 percent of its revenue, said Herbert Schmidt, president and chief executive officer.

Schmidt said he has misgivings about changing the current arrangement, where U.S. trucking companies have Mexican partners doing the hauling south of the border.

He said that during the last three months, four of his company´s textile-filled trailers were stolen at gunpoint in Mexico, though Mexicans were driving.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has long opposed what it views as a potential flood of cheap labor competing for its drivers´ jobs while using unsafe rigs.

"They do not meet our standards," Teamsters President James Hoffa said in an interview. "It´s not a level playing field when these people come in here with fake log books and they are on drugs. There is not one drug-testing facility in Mexico. We are talking about drivers who buy a commercial driver´s license in Tijuana."

He said the Teamsters will sue if necessary to stop the program.

Source: Noticias de Venezuela y del Mundo -

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