U.S. government-approved Mexican truck drivers and carriers begin making long-haul deliveries across the border into the United States today under the recommencement of a program mandated by the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The cross-border program has resumed despite heated opposition by opponents who claim it will lead to a loss of American jobs, more pollution, and less safe highways.
The pilot program, which allows Mexican carriers to make deliveries in the U.S. further than the standard 25-mile restriction, originally launched in 2007 with 31 Mexican trucking firms participating by 2008, but Congress abruptly de-funded it. Mexican authorities retaliated by imposing stiff tariffs on 99 American-made products, such as apples, Christmas trees, grapes, pork, potatoes, refrigerators, and washing machines.
The tariffs made American imports less competitive in the Mexican marketplace and cost U.S. manufacturer more than $2 billion a year in lost revenues. Mexico has promised to repeal the tariffs when the cross-border program is reinstated.
The first cross-border run was made by driver Josué Pérez of Transportes Olympic, which is based just northeast of Monterey, Mexico. Departing on Friday, Mr. Pérez hauled a 30-foot-tall drilling tower to a client in Garland, Texas, 400 miles north of the border.
Another Mexican carrier approved for American deliveries, Tijuana-based Grupo Behr, has been delayed while the Federal Motor Carrier Administration reviews safety concerns expressed by some opponents of the program. Grupo Behr, a small general freight company with seven trucks and seven drivers, was partially cleared by the FMCSA to make long-distance hauls in the U.S., with five of the company’s trucks and three of its drivers passing an FMCSA safety audit.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement on Friday that the NAFTA program “is a big win for American farmers and consumers, who will no longer have to struggle with onerous tariffs imposed by Mexico.”
Mexico’s Embassy in the U.S. praised the cross-border trucking program as “a step toward a more modern, agile, secure, and efficient border” that is “vital for North America’s competitiveness and for job creation on both sides of the border.”
According to a 2009 study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Congressional de-funding of the NAFTA program and Mexico’s stiff tariffs jeopardized more than 25,000 American jobs. The Chamber also said that the program would make border crossings more efficient and reduced traffic congestion and pollution at the border because trucks could deliver cargo directly rather than stop and unload at a U.S. terminal, where American trucks reload and deliver it.
Opponents of the program, including two Southern California congressmen, Democrat Bob Filner and Republican Duncan Hunter; the Teamsters Union, and the Independent Drivers Association, continue to protest the program, saying it will be a disaster for the U.S. in more ways than one.
“The opening of the border to trucks from Mexico will kill American jobs, it will kill the American environment and unfortunately, we may see American lives lost also,” Rep. Filner said at a Wednesday rally at the Otay Mesa terminal on the California-Mexico border.
Likewise, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said the NAFTA program “is playing Russian roulette with our highway safety in the United States.”