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U.S. to allow cross-border trucking, Mexico to lift tariffs
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U.S. to allow cross-border trucking, Mexico to lift tariffs

  • A semi truck waits to cross the United States-Mexico border at San Luis, Ariz., in this file photo.
    Rebekah Zemansky/Cronkite News ServiceA semi truck waits to cross the United States-Mexico border at San Luis, Ariz., in this file photo.

Mexican trucks subject to strict new safety measures will begin to move on U.S. highways, and Mexico will begin to lift tariffs on U.S. goods entering that country under an agreement signed Wednesday in Mexico City.

The signing ends a two-year stalemate that began in March 2009, when a previous program allowing Mexican trucks on U.S. roads ended, and Mexico imposed the tariffs in response.

Under the deal, Mexico will cut tariffs by half on U.S. goods and produce within 10 days and will eliminate the tariffs entirely within five days of the first Mexican carrier winning U.S. operating authority.

To win that authority, Mexican truckers will have to live up to U.S. safety and emissions standards. Their trucks will be electronically monitored, the drivers' drug samples will be tested in U.S. labs and drivers will have to show that they speak English and understand American road signs.

Department of Transportation officials could not say Wednesday how soon companies might be certified, only that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would begin taking applications from Mexican carriers.

Until now, Mexican trucks were only allowed in a zone near the border. The agreement will allow them all over the United States.

It was hailed by business groups, who said the removal of tariffs will open the door to greater trade envisioned in 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was supposed to give Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways.

But the Teamsters union savaged the deal, saying it would put unsafe Mexican trucks on U.S. highways and send good-paying U.S. trucking jobs to lower-priced Mexico.

"Opening the border to dangerous trucks at a time of high unemployment and rampant drug violence is a shameful abandonment of the DOT's duty to protect American citizens from harm and to spend American tax dollars responsibly," Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

Business groups saw the agreement differently, saying it will help stimulate the economy by lifting tariffs that the U.S. government said were as high as 25 percent on $2 billion worth of American produce and manufactured goods shipped to Mexico.

"Unfortunately it has been two years, but we are happy" with the agreement, said Ken Barbic, a spokesman for Western Growers. The agricultural trade association represents businesses in California and Arizona.

Barbic's group said $900 million in U.S. farm products have been hit by tariffs since the Mexican government began enforcing them in 2009. He said he hopes the deal holds.

"There will also be folks in Congress who may not want this to go through," Barbic said.

The Mexican government said it believes this agreement will fulfill the United States' commitment to NAFTA and it expects that the U.S. will remain committed to that agreement from this point forward.

"Let me say that we do expect this to be the final track toward the full U.S. compliance with NAFTA regulations," said Ricardo Alday, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington. "We do expect the U.S. to abide by the rules."

Alday expressed hope that the agreement would be a successful bridge between the two nations, but said there will be more work in the future to preserve real trade.

"It was about time that this moved forward," he said. "It is not yet a permanent solution."

Mexico and U.S. agree to trucking deal terms

—Julian Aguilar/Texas Tribune

U.S. and Mexico inked a deal Wednesday that marks the end of a years-long dispute over how far past the border long-haul tractor-trailers can travel.

Currently tractor-trailers entering the U.S. from Mexico are limited to traveling within a 20 to 25-mile radius of ports of entry, as are U.S. trucks traveling in to Mexico. That comes despite the cross-border, long haul trucking program included as an original provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1994.

A pilot project launched in 2007 was suspended in 2009, which led the Mexican government to place costly tariffs on more than $2 billion in U.S. goods. Wednesday's agreement means those tariffs will be gradually eliminated, with 50 percent being rescinded in the first 10 days, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"The new program puts safety first and paves the way for Mexico to lift tariffs it imposed more than two years ago. Pursuant to an agreement signed by the United States Trade Representative and the Secretaría de Economía of the United Mexican States, Mexico will soon lift retaliatory tariffs on more than $2 billion in U.S. manufactured goods and agricultural products, providing opportunities to increase U.S. exports to Mexico and expanding job creation in the U.S," the statement continues.

Mexican authorities say the remaining tariffs will be suspended 10 days after the first Mexican truck is granted provisional authority to operate on U.S. roadways. A DOT official who spoke on background said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would begin receiving applications from carriers now that the Federal Register Notice is public. Applicants would then be subject to FMCSA's application-review process and other requirements before they would receive provisional operating authority.

Under the guidelines agreed to Wednesday, Mexican trucks must contain electronic-monitoring systems to ensure hours-of-service requirements. English-language tests and drug screenings will also be a requirement for applicants seeking greater access to U.S. roadways.

The move drew the chagrin of truckers' unions, who have lashed out at the proposal since it was given new life earlier this year. They claim the move not only jeopardizes the safety of American motorists, but is also especially risky given Mexico's current civil war that has pitted cartel groups against each other and law enforcement. The Owner-Operator Independent Driver's Association accused the governments of acting in secret after learning of the agreement was signed with little advance notice.

"If the agreement is good for the U.S. why the hell is he [U.S Transportation Secretary LaHood] sneaking down there to sign it?" Jim Johnston, the president of OOIDA said in a statement. "Why not let the public see the details before signing the agreement? Seems like the Administration is dead set on caving to Mexico's shakedown regardless of the costs to the American public and our tax coffers."

The group also blasted the argument that the agreement benefits both countries, saying U.S. truckers know they are at risk if they travel in to Mexico.

"The association knows that most truckers refuse to haul loads into Mexico because of safety concerns, noting that the Department of State issues warnings against doing so on a regular basis," the statement continues.

The Teamsters union said the policy was "probably illegal" because Congress has not given DOT the authority to grant permanent operating authority to Mexican truckers who successfully pass through the pilot program.

"Opening the border to dangerous trucks at a time of high unemployment and rampant drug violence is a shameful abandonment of the DOT's duty to protect American citizens from harm and to spend American tax dollars responsibly," Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said in a statement.

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