House Members Urge the Renegotiation of NAFTA Trucking Provision

A bipartisan coalition of 77 House members sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood imploring them to renegotiate a section of the North American Free Trade Agreement that provides Mexican trucks with full access to U.S. roadways.

That provision of the trade agreement has sparked a bitter trade dispute between the U.S. and Mexico. NAFTA was supposed to allow Mexican trucks full access to U.S. roadways by 1995, however, opposition led by safety advocates and organized labor managed to keep the borders closed to Mexican trucks, more-or-less. After a Mexican trucking company successfully sued the U.S. for its failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, the Bush administration instituted a pilot program that was later scuttled by Congress. In response, the Mexican government levied tariffs on some 89 U.S. products totaling $2.4 billion.

The pilot program gave access to up to 500 Mexican trucks to drive deeper into the United States than previously allowed under law, which posed a whole host of safety risks, according to the letter.

“Mexico has no meaningful system for commercial driver’s licenses, drug testing or hours of service,” Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR), the organizer of the letter campaign, wrote.

Critics of the program have long cited safety concerns and, more recently, the growing specter of Mexican drug cartels using the program to smuggle illegal drugs into the U.S. as reasons for ending the program.

A report last year by ABC News only intensified those fears. The TV network found that Mexican drug cartels are “using a huge fleet of 18-wheelers to get their product into the United States.”

The drivers of those trucks have little to fear, according to ABC News, because less than 5 percent of the trucks entering the country from Mexico are inspected. A 2005, Government Accounting Office report found that number to be closer to 2 percent. In 2008, it was estimated that over three million 18-wheelers entered the country from Mexico.

“Commercial vehicles crossing the southern border are still the principal way drug trafficking organizations get their products into the U.S.,” Todd Spencer, Executive Vice President of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), said in a statement. “Providing Mexico-domiciled truckers with access throughout America will amplify existing vulnerabilities and will surely be exploited by criminal enterprises.”

The Mexican government has said that it will not settle for a reimplementation of the pilot program, instead they are seeking a comprehensive program, giving all Mexican trucks free rein in the U.S. Earlier this week it was announced by LaHood and his Mexican counterpart that the two countries would form working groups in order to try and reach a resolution on the matter.

But, according to DeFazio and his 77 House supporters, the only course of action is to permanently renegotiate that section of the trade pact to keep Mexican trucks off American roadways.

“This is a trade agreement that threatens the safety of the American public. Mexico has no right to use tariffs to force unsafe trucks with exhausted overworked, underpaid drivers into the United States,” he said.

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