MEXICO CITY — Is it news, or just another patch, albeit apparently a rather substantial patch, in the pavement of the almost year-long discussion about a replacement program for the Cross Border Demonstration Project Congress ended with the passage of the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill last March?
At the conclusion of a two-day visit to Mexico, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters that the Obama administration has taken the first step toward renewing a pilot program that allows Mexican truckers to operate within the U.S., as stipulated in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but still must work with Congress on fashioning a new program, according to a story on the Dow Jones newswire.
Kirk did not expound on what the “first step” entailed, but late Tuesday, a spokesperson for the United States Trade Representatives Office said that Kirk had said Monday in some one-on-one interviews and today during a press conference that the Obama administration was encouraged that the prohibitory language that was in the 2009 appropriations bill was not included in the 2010 bill.
This is a meaningful green light to move forward with a program that is safe, the spokesperson said, adding that Kirk said in Mexico he, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will now engage Congress regarding its concerns about the program.
If that is the case, it would be the first acknowledged forward movement toward coming up with a new program that could bring an end to $2.4 billion in tariffs Mexico imposed on exports to that country after Congress killed the pilot project.
"President Obama has made it plain that he would like to see this issue over the ability of Mexican trucks to move freely throughout the U.S. resolved as soon and as thoughtfully as possible," Kirk said at a news conference with Mexican Economy Minister Gerardo Ruiz Mateos.
Obama said as much when last March when, after signing the appropriations bill, he tasked Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood with working with Congress and the trucking industry to come up with the principles for a replacement program.
"With the offending language now being removed from the most recent appropriations bill, we have at least the green light to go forward and start those consultations with Congress" and other interested parties, Kirk said.
Administration officials have never explained why Obama told LaHood to work on a new program if indeed the 2009 bill precluded such work.
Kirk said Mexico would be consulted throughout the process of developing a new program.
Ruiz didn't comment on the trucking ban, which prompted Mexico to apply retaliatory tariffs against some U.S. goods, the Dow Jones story said. He said that with about $400 billion a year in bilateral trade between Mexico and the U.S., there are bound to be some problems.
Deputy United States Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro joined Kirk for the two-day meeting here.
They met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and with Mateos to discuss the mutual importance to the U.S. and Mexican economies of using trade to create jobs and improve competitiveness.
In an earlier meeting, Kirk and Sapiro and Mateos discussed topics including the North American Leaders Summit; bilateral trade issues such as transportation, tuna, intellectual property, the environment and the Doha Round of world trade negotiations, according to a release from Kirk’s office.
"Mexico is a very important trading partner to the United States. This trip was a wonderful opportunity for me to highlight the significance of the U.S.-Mexico trading relationship," Kirk said. "Cross-border trade totals more than $1 billion a day and the U.S. and Mexico must work together to keep trade flowing. A strong trading relationship between the U.S. and Mexico will ensure economic growth for both countries for years to come."
Lyndon Finney, editor of The Trucker may be contacted to comment at email@example.com.