No Mexican Trucks on U.S. Highways, Lawmakers Tell DOT

By Edwin Mora | May 16, 2011 | 10:15 AM EDT

( – In a recent letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a bipartisan group of 44 lawmakers urged the Obama administration not to reinstate a cross-border program involving Mexican trucks.

The lawmakers cited cost, safety and security concerns as reasons for not reviving the U.S. Department of Transportation’s proposed program.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) are leading the bi-partisan effort, which includes 13 Republicans and 31 Democrats.

“We have concerns that this proposed program could impact the safety and may create a security breach along our southern border,” the lawmakers wrote in a May 4 letter.

“With the recent rise in and the changing tactics of the Mexican drug cartels, we are also concerned that moving forward with this cross-border trucking program at this time is not in the best interests for security along our border,” added the letter. “The El Paso Intelligence Center reports that commercial vehicles are widely-used by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.’

The program would allow certified Mexican long-haul trucks to deliver goods inside the United States. Mexican trucks entering the U.S. would be required to abide by all U.S. safety and security regulations.

Currently, truckers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are permitted to travel only within a 20- to 25-mile radius of a trade port. 

“The current system of Mexican carriers operating within a defined commercial zone is working well for both safety and border security,” concluded the letter. “We strongly oppose the Administration’s cross-border trucking proposal.” 

The program originally was established under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, but amid safety, security, and environmental concerns, the U.S. suspended the pilot program. In 2009, Congress killed it.  

As a result, the Mexican government slapped tariffs on $2.4 billion of U.S. goods, and those tariffs are still in place today. 

“While we understand the need to work to remove the unfair tariffs that Mexico has imposed on U.S. agricultural products as a result, doing so should not come at the expense of the safety of our highways,” the lawmakers said in their letter.

The lawmakers object to taxpayer funds (from the federal Highway Trust Fund) being used to pay for on-board electronic monitors that the Mexican trucks would be required to carry. American truckers, on the other hand, would have to purchase the same equipment themselves. That’s adding insult to injury, Rep. Hunter said in a statement.

“Simply put, the cross-border trucking program is a straight handout to Mexico at the expense of American jobs, taxpayer dollars and security,” Hunter said.  He noted that the proposed program will give Mexican truckers “unrestricted access to U.S. roadways, leaving their American counterparts at a serious disadvantage,” which is one reason why labor unions also object to the program.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) said inspection failures and security lapses at the border “could result in the entry of unsafe vehicles and drivers that pose a threat to the safety of the public.” He said he is also concerned about Mexican providing drug traffickers with another potential avenue to exploit at a time when crime and violence in Mexico are on the rise.

In March 2011, President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon agreed to re-start the program.  

As part of the agreement, Mexico will lift the current agricultural tariffs in two phases. Half will be eliminated when the two countries sign the agreement, and the other half when the first Mexican truck is allowed to travel freely on U.S. roadways. 

Several trade unions such as Teamsters and AFL-CIO have criticized the Obama administration’s intentions to revive the cross-border trucking program, saying that opening the U.S. roads to Mexican truckers could kill U.S. jobs.

However, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Foreign Trade Council, an association of 250 U.S. corporations involved in international trade, support the Mexican trucking deal.

A September 2009 report by the Chamber of Commerce estimated if the U.S. did not implement  the NAFTA trucking provisions, "the impact on U.S. employment ... coupled with Mexican retaliation equals 25,600 jobs.”  The report also estimated that the suspension of the program has caused “U.S. exports to decline by $2.6 billion.”

Mexico is the second largest U.S export market.