Dinero moves new cross-border program foward

| February 22, 2010

The Obama adminstration has renewed its pledge to reopen the U.S.-Mexican border and allow commercial trucks from the United States and Mexico free access to each other’s respective interior highways.

Some officials says this could happen before the end of the year.

What’s puzzling is how this will work. Soon after taking office, Obama signed an omnibus spending bill that cut off funding a cross-border pilot program implemented under the President Bush.

The major argument was that Mexican trucks were too unsafe to operate on American highways. Other concerns were that an open border threatened American trucking jobs, presented greater opportunities to smuggle drugs  and Mexico’s ongoing drug wars made it unsafe for American drivers to haul goods across the border.

Many trucking organizations and safety advocates lobbied hard against the program.

The Bush pilot program was fairly benign. It allowed up to 100 certified trucking companies from each country the authority to transport freight beyond the 25-mile commerical zone. 

Obama quickly reversed himself on the issue after Mexico — citing a violation of the North American Free Trade agreement – slapped retaliatory tariffs on many  U.S. exports, which totaled about $2.4 billion a year. The president promised a new cross-border program last spring.

Not much has been heard about the dispute until December when Congress lifted language in the 2010 approprations bill that prohibitied funding for a new pilot program.

“We have been able to work with Congress and Obama is very pleased that the language in the 2009 appropriations bill — that essentially cut off the funding for the demonstration safety program — was not included in the 2010 appropriations bill,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told Reuters in a recent interview. “By removing that prohibitory language, we just now have a green light to engage Congress again more thoughtfully.”

Back to original arguments that shut down the border. Have Mexican trucks suddenly become “safer?” Have the security threats been resolved? Are American jobs no longer threatened?

And one addiitional question: Will Obama’s new program allow more certified trucks?  It seems unlikely that Mexico will approve a more limited program that the one under Bush or one that puts up so many roadblocks as to make it inefficent.

No one seems to know what the program will look like, but it’s seems clear that the president will have to show vast differences in his new program compared to the Bush program. And that very well could mean an expanded program. If so, doesn’t that fly in the face of the justifications for shutting down the old program?

Truthfully, Obama could give more than 2 billion reasons why his cross-country program will be better.  No political spin needed.

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