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Mexican Trucks in the U.S. - One of the primary objectives of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is to eliminate barriers to trade and investment in North America. And, since trucking is the primary means of commercial transportation between the participating countries, NAFTA also contains several provisions that impact cross-border trucking.
When President Clinton signed NAFTA into effect on January 1, 1994, a multitude of tariffs on products traded among Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. were eliminated. U.S. trucks, however, were not permitted to operate in Mexico, and Mexican trucks were limited to operating in designated commercial zones along the border with the U.S.
NAFTA has since eliminated additional tariffs, and more are to be eliminated in accordance with a 15-year schedule since its implementation. But in December 1995, safety concerns with the operation of Mexican motor carriers in the U.S. prompted the Department of Transportation (DOT) to announce a delay in scheduled NAFTA cross-border trucking access implementations. While U.S. and Mexico were to have allowed delivery and backhaul of cargo to each other's border states by 1995, and to have lifted all restrictions on cross-border trucking by 2000, cross-border access by commercial vehicles has been mired by continuing delays.
In order to fulfill the long-delayed requirement of NAFTA, the Bush Administration proposed a "demonstration" one-year pilot program to allow qualifying Mexican trucks past the U.S. border commercial zone. The Teamsters Union, Public Citizen, and the Sierra Club, however, asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the program on grounds that it would endanger public highways because of safety issues that had not been resolved.
After years of political wrangling, the court's order that a full environmental review be conducted prior to extending access to Mexican trucks was overturned and, on February 23, 2007, Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters announced that 100 Mexican trucking companies would begin making deliveries beyond the commercial zones. The same number of U.S. trucking companies would be doing likewise in Mexico.
The pilot program, however, did not get final approval until early September, in part due to further wrangling over whether Mexico would allow on-site inspections of their trucks, which had previously been denied. The program finally went into effect, but lasted only five days and let a single truck through before the Senate voted to cut its funding.
There is no question that further legal and political battles lay ahead before the fate of the pilot program, or, for the matter, that of the transportation provisions of NAFTA, will be determined. But as Deborah Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reportedly pointed out, how can the U.S. adequately inspect trucks of another country when it cannot even do so with its own?
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