It’s time for the federal government to fess up about what’s going on with the Mexico truck program.
President Barack Obama may have ordered a more transparent government, but the only transparency visible from this point is that we can see right through the smokescreen the feds have thrown up around coming up with a replacement for the Cross Border Demonstration Project.
That was the pilot project that allowed participating Mexico-domiciled trucks to travel beyond the so-called commercial trade zone and U.S. trucks to travel into Mexico.
When Congress shot out the tires last March, everyone in Washington, Obama included, acted hot and bothered about coming up with a replacement program.
The president even tasked Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood with developing a set of principles for a replacement program.
We were told that LaHood met with at least 23 Congressional leaders in addition to trucking industry stakeholders to discuss a replacement program.
That’s about the last we’ve been able to get the American government to say about what’s happened following those meetings.
Not so with the Mexican government.
Reliable Mexican sources familiar with the issue told The Trucker that Mexico Transport and Communications Secretary Juan Francisco Molinar Horcasitas met with LaHood in the U.S. in late October or early November and a replacement program was high on the agenda.
Those sources also told us that the two countries are not close to agreeing on a replacement program because in the words of the source, “movement on the U.S. side has been pretty slow.”
A Mexican official with knowledge of the trucking issue said the Mexican government was aware of discussions between the administration and Congress about the set of principles and added that Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón discussed a replacement program when the two met in Guadalajara in August.
“It was on the agenda. I don’t know how specific it was, but it definitely was on the agenda,” the official told us.
The Mexican official’s report of the meetings where the cross border issue was discussed appears to be in direct conflict with the most recent statement issued by the Department of Transportation in December.
"We are committed to upholding our international obligations,” Olivia Alair, the DOT’s press secretary told us. “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."
Asked to confirm the meeting between LaHood and his Mexican counterpart, Alair would not comment.
Is the DOT trying to hide something, or just being plain stubborn?
What would it hurt to acknowledge that the two men met?
Would doing so have exposed something that would have embarrassed the feds?
Asked if a set of principles had been sent to the White House and did the DOT mean it was going to have additional discussions with Congress beyond the reported previous meetings with Congressional leaders, Alair said she had no comment beyond the original statement.
Other sources familiar with Mexico’s position on the cross border issue say that the Mexican government is frustrated with the slow response.
“They [Mexican government officials] say the slow response is unacceptable because it’s taking too long for the U.S. to comply with its international obligations,” the sources said. “They understand that the legitimate priorities of this current U.S. administration are focused elsewhere today because of the realities of domestic politics—the economic crisis and healthcare. Having dealt with U.S. administrations for decades they understand domestic politics.”
The DOT would not comment on Mexico’s claim of a slow response.
Asked whether the Mexican government might do something beyond the $2.4 billion in tariffs it had already imposed on U.S. goods entering Mexico, a Mexican official said his country had “every option on the table” but would not comment on what specific options might be.
We’re sorry the trucking industry has been left pretty much in the dark about what has happened since the pilot project ended.
We wish the feds would be transparent in the sense in which Obama intended.
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.