The Obama administration took a positive step today toward resolving a long-simmering point of contention for U.S.-Mexico relations. A two-page concept document released by Secretary Ray LaHood and the Department of Transportation (DOT) outlines a series of proposals to revive the long haul, cross-border Mexican trucking program—an issue that has affected U.S. exports to a key U.S. trade partner.
Since March 2009, the United States and Mexico have sparred over allowing Mexican trucks to carry cargo into the United Sates. President Obama cancelled the program after concerns over the safety records of Mexican drivers and carriers as well as their lack of English. The move was seen as anti-free trade and protectionist by both U.S. and Mexican companies.
Soon after the President cancelled the program, Mexico denounced the move citing its violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which called for creating a cross-border trucking program by 2000. In response, Mexico imposed tariffs on products ranging from pork to chewing gum and pistachios. Once an agreement is reached, these retaliatory tariffs would be lifted.
Today’s concept document aims to renew negotiations with Mexico while also addressing concerns that led to the cancellation of the program. The document proposes vetting the information of both carriers and drivers through the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Additionally, Mexican truck drivers and their carriers must pass a Pre-Authority Safety Audit (PASA) that includes a review of the carrier’s safety record and driver’s record, compliance with EPA emissions standards and a review of the carrier’s accidents, convictions and inspections in Mexico. Mexican drivers must also pass an English Language Proficiency exam and a U.S. Traffic Laws exam (conducted in English) and submit evidence of financial responsibility (insurance) to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Shortly after his inauguration, President Barack Obama outlined a plan to develop America’s first nationwide program of high-speed intercity passenger rail service. Using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Obama Administration made $8 billion available for developing or laying the groundwork for 13 corridors across the U.S. including the Northeast (where one out of five Americans live). Supporters of this initiative soon hailed it as the most significant infrastructure program since the Eisenhower Interstate Program of the 1950’s.
Building high speed corridors provides numerous public advantages. In addition to providing greater interconnectivity between communities and developing transportation alternatives, the success of high speed rail offers new opportunities for manufacturing, the movement of goods and services and brings environmental benefits. U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood sees this as a legacy project that will make America more competitive, more productive and more united. I agree and the early response from the investment program has been encouraging as the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced that nearly $80 million in grants have already been delivered to states.
The Northeast corridor is of special interest to Québec. In April 2009, the Boston to Montréal corridor was identified as one of the major corridors by the Obama administration. As recently as October 2009, Québec Premier Jean Charest met with New York State Governor David Paterson about the possibility of exploring a second Northeast option: the New York-Albany-Montréal corridor. The latter idea is not new as it was first advocated in the 1970’s by then Montréal mayor, Jean Drapeau. Finally, Secretary LaHood in a February meeting in Washington with Premier Charest agreed to support the creation of task forces to actively study that option. Just a few days ago, the Québec government appointed former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Raymond Chrétien to co-head the Québec-New York task force.