The Obama administration is preparing once again to allow Mexican trucks to roam freely on U.S. roads under the auspices of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with or without the approval of Congress.
Quietly, the U.S. Department of Transportation has posted on its website a “Concept Document,” specifying a “Phased U.S.-Mexico Cross Border Long Haul Trucking Proposal” that envisions allowing open access to an unspecified number of Mexican trucks on U.S. roads after DOT has time to post in the Federal Register new rules circulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA.
The Obama administration’s determination to see Mexican long-haul rigs roll throughout the U.S. is a slap in the face to many Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who fought hard in 2008 to have language inserted into legislation that would stop the project out of concerns that Mexican trucks do not conform to U.S. safety standards.
Obama ended Bush-era project
In March 2009, President Obama signed the $410 billion Omnibus Funding Bill into law, along with provisions ending the Department of Transportation’s Mexican truck demonstration project.
DeFazio’s office confirmed to WND that he has requested that Rep. John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., the chairman of the House Subcommittee and Transportation, hold hearings on the proposed Obama administration Mexican truck plans.
The DOT’s two-page “Concept Document” specifies at the end that the agency will periodically report to Congress on Mexican trucks in the U.S. But nothing in the document suggests DOT or the FMCSA has any intention of coming to Congress to seek permission before promulgating rules, initiating procedures to safety-test Mexican trucks and open the borders to FMCSA safety-certified Mexican long-haul carriers.
The “Concept Document” published on the DOT website specifies vaguely, “Subject to negotiation with Mexico, the number of carrier and truck participants in this first phase of the program will be managed to ensure adequate oversight.”
The DOT’s initial program overview specifies that Mexican trucks allowed into the U.S. will have to complete successfully a “Pre-Authority Safety Audit,” or PASA, that will include an examination of Mexican commercial drivers’ licenses, checking Mexican trucks against FMCSA safety requirements and certifying that Mexican drivers are proficient in English.
The “Concept Document,” however, neglects to give details regarding how precisely Mexican trucks and drivers will be inspected and certified by Mexican or FMCSA field supervisors.
Mexico demands trucks in U.S.
TheTrucker.com, a trucking industry magazine, reported last October that a Mexican official at a Washington luncheon held on Oct. 15 said Mexico would not accept another pilot program.
“If you put in place a demonstration project similar to what we had, it can begin, but it can be defunded at any time,” said Jose Luis Paz Vega, the head of the NAFTA office at the Mexican embassy in Washington, at the Oct.15 luncheon. “Mexico is not willing to take that anymore. We need a program that is permanent, that has certainty and complies with NAFTA. And we’re not willing to accept anything less than that.”
One day after signing the Omnibus Funding Bill, Obama instructed the office of the U.S. trade representative to work with Congress, DOT, the State Department and Mexican officials to come up with legislation to create “a new trucking project that will meet the legitimate concerns” of Congress and the U.S. under NAFTA.
The current Obama administration proposal appears to fall short of Mexico’s demands. The “phased-in” approvals for Mexican trucks to operate under NAFTA in the U.S. appear to resemble the Bush administration’s incremental “pilot program” approach that gave Mexican drivers and rigs the green light to cross the border into the U.S. without restraints on where they might operate.
Yet, by not defining the Mexican truck initiative as a “demonstration” or “”pilot program,” DOT may avoid having to come to Congress for the type of specific program funding the Bush administration was required to request.
While the DOT “Concept Document” proposes a phased-in approach, the suggestion seems to be that Mexican trucks will get U.S. authority to operate in the U.S. under the Obama proposal on a continuing basis, without any need to evaluate the program’s success before going to the next threshold of Mexican trucks acquiring U.S. operating authority.
Angry trucking unions blast Obama
The Obama administration’s determination to see Mexican long-haul rigs roll throughout the U.S. has angered the Teamsters, who supported candidate Obama in the 2008 presidential election and the Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections. Obama has not fulfilled his 2008 campaign promise to renegotiate NAFTA to preserve U.S. jobs.
“With so much focus in Washington on creating jobs, it’s a bit shocking that the administration would pursue a program that can only rob U.S. drivers of their jobs,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, or OOIDA.
“Until the Mexican government is able to significantly diminish the rampant crime and violence within its borders, commits to addressing its deteriorated infrastructure and promulgates regulations that significantly improve its trucking industry, U.S. truckers will be unable to benefit from the anticipated reciprocity,” said Spencer, suggesting few U.S. truckers would want to operate their rigs in Mexico.
“If a new cross-border trucking program were implemented in the near future, U.S. truckers would be forced to forfeit their own economic opportunities while companies and drivers from Mexico, free from equivalent regulatory burdens, take over the traffic lanes.”
James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters, was equally outraged.
“My union will fight against opening the border to Mexican Trucks,” Hoffa told the Detroit News. “We simply don’t believe U.S. taxpayers should pay to let more Mexican companies depress American workers’ wages.
Mexico retaliated with tariffs
In response to ending the Mexican truck demonstration project in March 2009, Mexico increased tariffs on some 90 U.S. products in a move making clear Mexico did not intend to lose the trucking war under NAFTA.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has claimed the Obama administration was experiencing heavy pressure from U.S. businesses negatively impacted by Mexico’s tariffs. He told reporters that Mexico’s retaliation has had “an enormous impact.”
“It is really putting a huge economic stress on the producers,” he said, arguing the tariffs had placed an additional $2.4 billion cost on U.S. exporters.
The Obama administration’s decision to reignite the Mexican truck controversy appears to reflect a decision to bow to business interests.
“If we’re going to double exports within five years, we must hold on to export markets, such as Mexico, where American companies are doing well,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donahue told the New York Times, arguing that the Obama administration should allow Mexican trucks into the U.S. as an inducement to Mexico to remove the retaliatory tariffs.
Are Mexican trucks safe?
Critics continue to point out that Mexico has no real system of driver training, licensing, drug testing, driver physical requirements, safety inspection, cargo latching security, hazmat control or brake standards that match U.S. standards.
Concerns continue that in Mexico compliance with the U.S. Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance standards will be met by Mexican inspectors taking bribes, the typical method used in the country to get around onerous government regulations.
The Mexican truck issue became rancorous during the last two years of the Bush administration as Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters fought off repeated efforts by Congress to confine Mexican trucks to a narrow 20-mile commercial area north of the southern border.
WND reported that after the Mexican truck project had begun, an examination of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration database revealed hundreds of safety violations by Mexican long-haul rigs on U.S. roads under the project.
WND also reported that in an argumentative Senate hearing in March 2008, then North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan in tight questioning got Peters to admit that Mexican drivers were being designated at the border as “proficient in English” even though they could explain U.S. traffic signs only in Spanish.
In the tense hearing, Dorgan accused Peters of being “arrogant” and in reckless disregard of a congressional vote to stop the Mexican trucking demonstration project by taking funds away.
As WND reported, opposition in the House was led by Rep. DeFazio, who in September 2007 accused the Bush administration of having a “stealth plan” to allow Mexican long-haul rigs on U.S. roads.
“This administration (of President George W. Bush) is hell-bent on opening our borders,” DeFazio then said, “but has failed to require that Mexican drivers and trucks meet the same safety and security standards as U.S. drivers and trucks.”
Previously, Peters had argued the wording of the Dorgan amendment did not prohibit the Transportation Department from stopping a Mexican truck demonstration project that DOT has already begun, even if the measure prohibited DOT from starting any new project.