Source: U-T San Diego
By Sandra Dibble 8:43 P.M.JAN. 12, 2015
Measure complies with NAFTA
The United States is preparing to open the border to Mexican long-haul truckers, allowing those who qualify for permits to make direct deliveries from Mexico to U.S. destinations — a measure stipulated more than two decades ago under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is expected to publish a formal announcement this week inviting Mexican companies to apply.
Supporters in United States and Mexico are praising the move as an important step toward the economic integration of the two countries and Canada that was envisioned at NAFTA’s signing in 1994.
Implementation of a permanent program for Mexican truckers also removes the threat that Mexico would reinstate more than $2 billion annually in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products.
The announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, follows a three-year pilot program designed to test the safety of Mexican trucking companies driving on U.S. highways.
The study, submitted to Congress on Friday showed that “Mexican carriers demonstrate a level of safety at least as high as their American and Canadian counterparts,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a written statement.
Longtime NAFTA critics such as the Teamsters Union have been quick to disagree. Jim Hoffa, the group’s general president said in a statement that “allowing untested, Mexican trucks to travel our highways is a mistake of the highest order and it’s the driving public that will be put at risk by the DOT’s rash decision.”
But Luis de la Calle, an economist who served on Mexico’s NAFTA negotiating team, said the announcement was long overdue: “After many years of the U.S. preaching rule of law, it is willing to comply with international obligations.”
Chris Wilson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., said the announcement “will give certainty to Mexican trucking companies, thereby encouraging them to make investments in their fleet and drivers that would allow them to meet U.S. regulatory standards.”
Alfonso Esquer, whose family owns two long-haul trucking companies in San Diego and Baja California, believes Mexican truckers will respond to the U.S. invitation.
“You’re talking to one of the guys that’s going to be applying tomorrow,” he said Monday, adding that he expects other Mexican companies to follow suit, “more so the well-established companies, not the people trying to save a quarter here and there.”
Still, few believe the new policy is going to immediately bring large numbers of Mexican trucks to U.S. highways.
“It’s more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary process,” said Martin Rojas, vice president for security and operations at the American Trucking Associations, which has supported NAFTA.
A key impediment to seamless cross-border trucking remains congestion at the border, Rojas said. Due to lengthy waits to cross, long-haul trucking companies are unwilling to send expensive late-model trucks to the border and have them spend hours idling in line. Rojas expects that the current system of short-haul truckers who specialize in the delivery of goods within a narrow border commercial zone to continue until improved border crossing efficiencies are reached.
“NAFTA trucking is not going to change things much at the border,” Rojas said. “A lot of the cross-border relationships that exist between U.S. and Mexican carriers are going to continue.”
Mexican trucking companies say that another issue that discourages them from making cross-border deliveries is a U.S. law that prohibits both Canadian and Mexican carriers from carrying goods between U.S. destinations. That means if they don’t have a return delivery, their trucks must come back empty.
For years, cross-border trucking has been a sensitive subject, generating political battles, lawsuits and public demonstrations. Opponents have questioned the ability of Mexican long-haul truckers to operate safely, and say their presence threatens U.S. jobs.
The Teamsters and other critics are seizing on the report that was submitted to Congress last week, saying that low participation in the pilot program made its findings invalid.
A report released in December by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General found that the pilot program “lacked an adequate and representative sample of participant carriers to project these results across the universe of Mexico-domiciled carriers likely to engage in cross-border operations.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s newly released report is based on data collected from 15 Mexican companies that made 28,000 crossings. Their trucks traveled more than 1.5 million miles and underwent more than 5,500 safety inspections. In presenting its conclusions, the agency said it also relied on data collected from 952 Mexican-owned trucking companies that were operating during the same period under pre-existing authority.