Border disorder

| December 12, 2008

Linda Longton, Editor
llongton@rrpub.com

If the Department of Transportation has its way, 100 Mexican carriers could hit our nation’s highways next month. A year-long pilot program, unveiled in February by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, gives DOT-approved Mexican carriers authority to deliver freight within the United States and return with freight bound for Mexico. The program allows equivalent access to Mexico for 100 U.S. carriers.

Not surprisingly, truckers, safety advocates, the Teamsters and some members of Congress are against the idea. A journalist hired by the Teamsters says Mexican truckers use illegal drugs to enable them to drive thousands of miles. Others question how U.S. inspectors will know how long a Mexican trucker has been on duty before he reaches the border. Still others deride the condition of Mexican trucks.

But in reality, the program requires Mexican drivers to have a valid commercial driver’s license, carry proof that they are medically fit, comply with our hours-of-service rules, and be able to communicate in English. Beyond that, “each and every truck in the demonstration program will be checked, and any unsafe vehicle or unfit driver will be taken off the road,” Peters said. That’s far more scrutiny than U.S.-based carriers regularly receive.

Without valid safety concerns to slow its progress, the program could be a good first step toward revamping the inefficient flow of freight between the U.S. and Mexico. (A single truck shipment between the two countries now requires three drivers and three tractors.) While nearly $2.4 billion in trade flows daily between the United States, Mexico and Canada – 75 percent of that value carried by trucks – such inefficiencies prevent the United States from reaching its full trade potential.

Improving the flow of trade would further strengthen our economy – and Mexico’s – meaning more goods carried both ways by truck. Since NAFTA went into effect, U.S. exports to Mexico and Canada have increased 157 percent. In 2006, we imported $127 billion by truck from Mexico. Such increased demand for Mexican goods could have another benefit: more jobs in Mexico could help stem the tide of illegals entering our country.

The real issue is not the feasibility of this pilot program. It’s whether the Mexican trucking industry will use it as a template for implementing industry-wide, U.S.-level safety standards. For now, the U.S. Inspector General of the DOT says he has “no confidence” that Mexican trucking standards are equal to ours. Until they are, we cannot fully – and safely – open the border to trucks. But without such a pilot program, we may never reach that goal. And our economy could suffer for it.

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