Backers of cross-border trucking deal say opponents can't put on brakes
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Backers of cross-border trucking deal say opponents can't put on brakes

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An attorney for Mexican trucking interests had a message Wednesday for opponents of a deal to gradually open the U.S.-Mexico border to long-distance freight trucking.

“It’s going to take place,” Carlos Sesma said. “There is no way you can stop it.”

Sesma was speaking to a subcommittee of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration charged with overseeing the pilot program called for in the agreement that was signed between the two countries in July.

But even members of the subcommittee could not agree at Wednesday’s organizational meeting that the program is a good idea.

“What’s behind this is access to cheaper sources of labor,” said Todd Spencer, a member of the subcommittee, after the meeting.

Spencer, of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a small-truckers group, charged that the deal could put U.S. jobs at risk and that it raises safety concerns.

Another member, Lamont Byrd, said he also has concerns but he declined to elaborate on them Wednesday. Byrd is director of safety and health for the Teamsters union, which has vigorously opposed the agreement in the past.

But the agreement will not take jobs from U.S. truckers, Sesma said, because Mexican drivers won’t stay in this country for work. As for safety, he said, cross-border truckers from Mexico are from areas near the U.S., so most read and speak English and understand U.S. traffic laws.

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The agreement imposes strict standards on Mexican carriers, including language and drug tests, before they are permitted to drive deep into the U.S. Truckers can already cross to certain commercial zones along the border, and the new agreement expands their reach to eventually include the entire United States.

The July deal ended a two-year standoff between the countries that began when the U.S. ended a pilot trucking program in March 2009 and Mexico responded by raising tariffs on American goods.

One of the first effects of the deal was a phased Mexican reduction of about $2 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods. If the pilot program is not implemented, “I suspect the Mexican government will put billions of dollars of tariffs back onto U.S. goods,” said Bill Quade, an enforcement official for the FMCSA.

He said five companies have already submitted applications to be accepted into the program. Mexican truckers allowed to haul freight in to the U.S. would need to have a driving record clear enough to drive north of the border, not just in Mexico, Quade said, and trucks will be equipped with tracking devices.

Sesma said the creation of an open border for commerce is inevitable, which is why the agreement makes practical sense. He said the current method of carrying long-distance freight across the border, in which a truck drops a trailer and another picks it up, is inefficient.

But Spencer called that characterization “unbelievably exaggerated.” He questioned the ability of U.S. and Mexican states to police drivers with poor records and he claimed that the scarcity of low-sulfur diesel in Mexico, which is needed for most newer-model U.S. trucks, would be a handicap for American truckers trying to penetrate the Mexican market.

“Any real, meaningful truck travel in Mexico isn’t going to be possible,” Spencer said.

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Nick Newman/Cronkite News Service

People wait to cross the border at the Nogales Port of Entry in fall 2010.