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.
The Obama Administration says that it will continue to ensure that any revamped program will deliver jobs and growth in the United States and expects to release a formal proposal to Congress and the public for comment in the coming months.
Mexico’s deputy transport minister, Humberto Trevino, said the government would respond to the U.S. proposal by Monday. And Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhán Tweeted today that “[M]exico will carefully & constructively evaluate (the) US proposal to solve long-standing trucking dispute.”
Melissa Pitts is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She is an associate at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and is a former staffer for Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) where she worked on foreign policy, defense and trade issues.