U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter proposes NAFTA trucking rules


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U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, introduced legislation Thursday to tighten rules for freight trucks entering the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement, to prevent terrorists from getting into the country and protect American motorists from unsafe truckers.

Mexican truckers may cross the border now. But presently, they are allowed to travel only within 25 miles of the international boundary. Under a Bush administration program, 100 Mexican trucking companies would begin traveling throughout the United States next month.
Unrestricted travel on all U.S. highways was promised by 2000, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. But lawsuits and disagreements between the countries put the promise on hold.

"Unrestricted cross-border trucking presents potential terrorists, drug smugglers and other criminals the opportunity to quietly enter the United States with unidentified cargo and contraband," Hunter said.

Hunter's bill, dubbed the NAFTA Trucking Safety Act, would require Mexican truck drivers to undergo background checks. And it would give U.S. law enforcement officers access to various records that enable them to verify a driver's identification and check for criminal history.

Labor groups and trucking organizations have expressed concern about opening the country to Mexican truckers.

"Our policy is that we believe in NAFTA and we favor free trade," said Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations in Alexandria, Va. "But we want a level playing field. Mexican trucks should meet all of the requirements that American trucks do when they are in the States, and that includes safety, environmental, security, driver's license, everything."
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The legislation has 10 sponsors not including Hunter and is believed to have “strong initial support,” said Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio.

"There are considerable safety and security risks involved with providing Mexican truckers complete and unrestricted access to American roadways," said Hunter. "It is important that these issues are thoroughly addressed before Mexican motor carriers are permitted to freely operate beyond established commercial zones along the Southern land border.

"Our nation's roadways and motorists must be protected from potentially dangerous and unsafe vehicle traffic. The NAFTA Trucking Safety Act rightfully applies to Mexican truckers the same rules and regulations applied to American truckers, preventing unqualified and inexperienced motor carriers from traveling the highways and roads within our communities. If Mexican truckers cannot meet these requirements, then they should not be granted access into the United States.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) applauded the legislation. “This legislation will go a long way to assure foreign trucks operating on U.S. soil do not represent a threat to highway safety or to our homeland security,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president in a news release.

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