WASHINGTON — Two Congressmen with constituencies deeply involved in agriculture have drafted a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk that will ask the Obama administration to find a solution for the Mexican truck dispute that resulted in Mexico imposing tariffs on U.S. exports to that country.
In addition, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., have written colleagues are asking colleagues to sign the letter before it is finalized and sent to LaHood and Kirk, The Trucker has learned.
Congress terminated funding in the fiscal year 2009 omnibus appropriations bill for a pilot program that allowed trucks from Mexico into the U.S. to deliver loads beyond the commercial trade zone and trucks from the U.S. to do the same in Mexico.
The lawmakers wrote in the draft letter to their peers that Congress had removed the prohibition in the fiscal year 2010 consolidated appropriations bill.
“Despite repeated letters and communication with the administration, the Department of Transportation has not moved forward to develop a plan that would remove these burdensome tariffs from the backs of our domestic businesses and farmers,” the letter to their colleagues said.
“Congress prohibited the administration from working on a new program in the March 2009 appropriations bill,” a spokesperson for Kirk’s office told The Trucker last month when asked about status of the tariffs. “Therefore, the U.S. Trade Representative had not been working on a new program. Congress removed that prohibition in December. The Administration is now considering its options.”
That statement appears in conflict with what happened right after Congress killed the program.
Within days of when President Barack Obama signed the bill, the White House announced that Obama had tasked LaHood with developing a replacement program.
Almost immediately, LaHood met with members of Congress and trucking industry stakeholders and in May, told the National Press Club he had sent his proposal to the White House.
Virtually nothing has been heard about the plan since, and in December, when questioned about the status of the plan in light of reported meetings between LaHood and Mexican officials, Olivia Alair, LaHood’s press secretary, told The Trucker: "We are committed to upholding our international obligations. We are also committed to ensuring the safety of American roads and addressing any legitimate safety concerns raised by members of Congress. We have not yet floated any proposals with Mexico and look forward to consulting with members of Congress."
Cardoza and Larsen noted the impact of the tariffs.
“Despite repeated letters and communication with the Administration, the Department of Transportation has not moved forward to develop a plan that would remove these burdensome tariffs from the backs of our domestic businesses and farmers,” the letter to their colleagues said.
The tariffs range from 10 to 45 percent.
Without the 20 percent retaliatory tariffs on cherries last season, Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said industry experts believe that Northwest cherry exporters could have exported 50 percent more volume to Mexico, according to an article posted online at www.thepacker.com.
Likewise, the cumulative negative effect on fresh pear growers is close to $11 million, Power said.
“That’s coming straight out of the growers’ pockets,” he said.
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