WASHINGTON — Citing safety concerns, Rep. Peter DeFazio doesn’t want Mexico-based trucks on U.S. highways. And to ensure that Mexico can’t use trade threats to open the border to long-haul trucking, the Oregon Democrat wants instead to rewrite a treaty.
So on Wednesday DeFazio led 78 members of Congress in sending a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk. The letter asks that they renegotiate the section of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that calls for cross-border trucking between the U.S. and Mexico.
“Mexico has no meaningful system for commercial driver’s licenses, drug testing or hours of service. This is a trade agreement that threatens the safety of the American public. Mexico has no right to use tariffs to force unsafe trucks with exhausted over-worked, under-paid drivers into the United States,” DeFazio said.
A Department of Transportation spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon the DOT had no comment on DeFazio's request.
Congress has repeatedly rejected the cross-border program because its critics said the Bush Administration’s implementation plan failed to adequately protect Americans from unsafe Mexican trucking standards. The objection to the trucking program was predominantly due to Mexico’s less stringent regulations on hours-of-service, vehicle safety, and driver training and licensing.
LaHood on Monday met in Mexico with his counterpart, Secretary of Communications and Transportation Juan Molinar Horcasitas, to discuss “the broad range of transportation issues of fundamental economic interest to both countries,” according to a Transportation Department statement.
In particular, the countries will establish a working group to consider next steps of the cross-border trucking program, the DOT news release said.
“The Obama Administration proposal has not been made public and I have not seen it but, I am skeptical that Congress will approve any program of this kind. The safety concerns are just too big an obstacle to overcome,” DeFazio said. “This section of NAFTA is just unacceptable and cannot be remedied with tinkering at the edges. I believe the solutions offered in this letter will be more fruitful for the Administration.”
NAFTA does not bind the U.S. to accept subpar safety standards; however, the Mexican government is insisting the U.S. move forward with cross-border trucking and has instituted retaliatory, politically aimed tariffs until the program is in place, DeFzaio added.
The letter, he contends, offers the only workable solution to the current grid lock on the issue: renegotiate the flawed section of NAFTA which requires a commitment to liberalize cross-border trucking.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) immediately cheered the action.
“Every year, U.S. truckers are burdened with new safety, security and environmental regulations. Those regulations come with considerable compliance costs,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “Mexico’s regulatory standards and enforcement on trucks aren’t even remotely equivalent to what we have here. To open the border at this time is insanity from both an economic standpoint and safety.”
In addition to the disparity in regulatory standards and compliance costs, OOIDA contends that unanswered questions remain not only about the overall safety, but also about the crime and security implications of giving Mexico-based trucks unfettered access to the United States.
“Commercial vehicles crossing the southern border are still the principal way drug trafficking organizations get their products into the U.S.,” said Spencer. “Providing Mexico-domiciled truckers with access throughout America will amplify existing vulnerabilities and will surely be exploited by criminal enterprises as well as terrorist organizations.”
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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