May 10, 2011: Forty-two House members joined Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) in a May 4 letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood blasting a proposed North American Free Trade Agreement cross-border trucking program with Mexico.
However, Emergency Committee for American Trade President Calman Cohen May 6 told DOT in a comment letter that instituting the pilot program would show a commitment to improving U.S.-Mexico trade ties as well as advance the president's National Export Initiative goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015.
Since 2009, Mexico has slapped tariffs on U.S. products totaling more than $2.4 billion in value because of U.S. noncompliance with the NAFTA trucking provisions. The cross-border trucking program would implement NAFTA trucking provisions that have been stalled since 1995 because of safety concerns about Mexican trucks on U.S. roads.
“It is important that the United States fully implement the proposed pilot program to achieve the quick removal of these tariffs to restore U.S. companies' exporting opportunities and end the dispute that has encumbered for too long the important U.S.-Mexico trading partnership,” Cohen said.
If the United States remains out of compliance with its NAFTA commitments, U.S. exports are at a disadvantage and the nation's ability to reach the NEI goal is hampered, Cohen said.
Mexico has committed to suspending 50 percent of its retaliatory tariffs if and when DOT formally signs on to the proposed program. The remaining tariffs would end when the first Mexican carrier receives authorization to operate in the United States.
The ECAT letter noted that the three-year program includes checks to ensure carrier safety and verify driver certifications, including requirements that carriers undergo safety data and compliance reviews, as steps toward receiving permanent operating authority.
Lawmakers Oppose Program
The lawmakers' letter underscored members' concerns with the safety, security and costs of the program. Hunter circulated a draft of the letter last month (75 DLR A-11, 4/19/11).
“The cross-border trucking program clearly puts foreign interests above our own,” Hunter said in a statement. He added that the program was bad for the U.S. economy, the trucking industry, U.S. truckers, and border security.
Under the DOT proposal, participating Mexican carriers and drivers would be required to comply with all applicable U.S. laws and regulations, including those concerned with motor carrier safety, customs, immigration, vehicle registration and taxation, and fuel taxation, the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in an April 13 Federal Register notice soliciting comments (69 DLR A-8, 4/11/11).
Lipinski said, “Past inspection failures and gaps in security at the border show that opening our roads to Mexican truck traffic could result in the entry of unsafe vehicles and drivers that pose a threat to the safety of the public.” He added that the agreement gives drug traffickers another “potential avenue to exploit at a time when crime and violence in Mexico are on the rise.”
NFTC Backs Program
On the other side of the issue, National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch May 3 wrote to DOT in strong support of the border opening as envisioned by the proposed pilot program.
“The pilot program represents a critical step toward meeting the long-standing U.S. commitment to allow cross-border delivery of international cargo by Mexican-domiciled carriers from Mexico into the United States, access that is already provided to Canadian carriers,” Reinsch wrote, noting that the United States is bound by NAFTA provisions barring the United States from favoring Canadian or domestic carriers over Mexican carriers.
Not only does U.S. noncompliance with NAFTA lower U.S. credibility with its largest trading partners, it also may negatively impact future and ongoing negotiations, the letter warned. “U.S. compliance with the agreement will help to restore trust in America's international commitments,” Reinsch wrote.
While welcoming the pilot program, Reinsch said it was critical that it lead quickly to a permanent solution to fully comply with U.S. NAFTA cross-border services commitments.
By Rossella Brevetti for BNA Daily Labor Report.
Text of the letter may be accessed here.