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US Opening Border to Mexican Truckers

Monday, January 12, 2015  
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The United States border is being opened to Mexican carriers that want to run in the U.S., the Department of Transportation has announced.

The Jan. 9 announcement said that the DOT will publish a notice in the Federal Register, probably on Jan. 15, saying Mexican carriers are allowed to apply for operating authority here, ending more than 20 years of dispute over the Mexican truck issue.

“The policy change is expected to result in the permanent termination of more than $2 billion in annual retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods and follows a three-year pilot program that tested and validated the safety of Mexican trucking companies to operate long-haul in the U.S,” the DOT announcement said.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said opening the border to “a safe cross-border trucking system with Mexico is a major step forward in strengthening our relationship with the nation’s third largest trading partner, and in meeting our obligations under [the North American Free Trade Agreement].

“Data from the three-year pilot program, and additional analysis on almost 1,000 other Mexican long-haul trucking companies that transport goods into the United States, proved that Mexican carriers demonstrate a level of safety at least as high as their American and Canadian counterparts,” Foxx said.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman also welcomed the news, the DOT statement said.
The successful conclusion of the pilot program provides the basis for the permanent resolution to this dispute,” said Ambassador Froman.

“We have been, and will continue to work with Mexico to ensure that the threat of retaliatory duties will now be brought to a swift conclusion as well,” Froman said. “Formally concluding this process will help us continue our work to expand trade and investment opportunities between our countries.”

The pilot program ended in October but a report released by the DOT’s Inspector General last month said that with only 15 carriers in the pilot the IG could not draw conclusions about whether the general population of Mexican trucks would have the same high safety standards as those that participated in the pilot.

However, the same day the DOT announced the border was being opened to Mexican trucks, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it sent its own report to Congress.

The FMCSA report said the pilot results show that Mexican carriers “can and do operate throughout the United States at a safety level equivalent to U.S and Canada domiciled motor carriers and consistent with the high safety standards that FMCSA imposes on all motor carriers authorized to operate in the United States.”

The conflicting reports are likely to draw the attention of Congress, which before the pilot was launched, had blocked other attempts to let Mexican trucks run long haul beyond designated commercial zones at the border.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he was “deeply disappointed” when the Obama Administration notified him that it had decided to open the border to the Mexican Carriers.

“They are justifying this decision, using data collected from Mexican trucks that they allowed to operate long haul in the U.S. as enterprise carriers, avoiding the more arduous pilot program,” DeFazio said.

“These carriers were not subject to the more rigorous safety inspections, electronic monitoring of hours of service compliance, and other measures to which pilot program carriers were subject,” he said. “This Administration appears insistent on creating opportunities for Mexican carriers - which will have major impacts on safety, security, and American jobs.”

The dispute over the border opening dates to 1994 when NAFTA took effect. The U.S. was to open its borders to more long-haul Mexican trucks but the opening was delayed by questions from the Teamsters and others about safety standards for Mexican trucks.

The DOT noted that in 2001, a NAFTA dispute settlement panel said the U.S. was not in compliance with the cross-border trucking provisions of the agreement.

And in 2009 Congress used its appropriations power to halt a demonstration project, at which point Mexico “exercised its option to take retaliatory measures, granted by a NAFTA Arbitration Panel, and impose more than $2 billion in annual tariffs on exports of U.S. agriculture, personal care products and manufacturing goods.”

Mexico “suspended” the tariffs after the new pilot program began in 2011.

Mexican carriers seeking long-haul operating authority will be required to pass “a Pre-Authorization Safety Audit to confirm they have adequate safety management programs in place, including systems for monitoring hours-of-service and to conduct drug testing” using labs certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Additionally, all drivers must possess a valid U.S. Commercial Driver’s License or a Mexican Licencia Federal de Conductor, and must meet the agency’s English language proficiency requirements,” DOT said.

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