U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) yesterday, April 14, led 78 members of Congress in sending a bipartisan letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk asking they renegotiate the section of the North American Free Trade Agreement that opens U.S. roadways to what the congressional delegation described as “unsafe” Mexican trucks.
“Mexico has no meaningful system for commercial driver’s licenses, drug testing or hours of service,” DeFazio says. “This is a trade agreement that threatens the safety of the American public. Mexico has no right to use tariffs to force unsafe trucks with exhausted overworked, underpaid drivers into the United States.”
DeFazio says objection to the Bush administration’s cross-border trucking program predominantly was due to Mexico’s less stringent regulations on hours of service, vehicle safety and driver training and licensing, all of which poses a threat to the traveling American public. Congress repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected the cross-border program because it failed to adequately protect Americans from unsafe Mexican trucking standards, DeFazio says.
“The Obama administration proposal has not been made public, and I have not seen it, but I am skeptical that Congress will approve any program of this kind,” DeFazio says. “The safety concerns are just too big an obstacle to overcome. This section of NAFTA is just unacceptable and cannot be remedied with tinkering at the edges. I believe the solutions offered in this letter will be more fruitful for the administration.”
DeFazio says NAFTA does not bind the United States to accept subpar safety standards, but the Mexican government is insisting the United States move forward with cross-border trucking and has instituted retaliatory politically-aimed tariffs until the program is in place.
DeFazio says the only workable solution to the current gridlock on the issue is to renegotiate the section of NAFTA (section U.S. NAFTA Annex I (I-U-21)) that requires a commitment to liberalize cross-border trucking. A successful renegotiation would remedy all the truck safety, homeland security and unemployment issues associated with the longstanding trade dispute, and also would eliminate the tariffs, which are negatively impacting the export markets in the United States, DeFazio says.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supported the letter. “Mexico’s regulatory standards and enforcement on trucks aren’t even remotely equivalent to what we have here. To open the border at this time is insanity from both an economic standpoint and safety,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.
As noted in DeFazio’s letter, there has been no comprehensive independent review to assess whether Mexico’s trucking standards and driver licensing and safety rules are equivalent to the requirements of the United States. In addition to the disparity in regulatory standards and compliance costs, OOIDA contends that unanswered questions remain not only about the overall safety, but also about the crime and security implications of giving Mexico-based trucks unfettered access to the United States.
“Commercial vehicles crossing the southern border are still the principal way drug trafficking organizations get their products into the U.S.,” noted Spencer. “Providing Mexico-domiciled truckers with access throughout America will amplify existing vulnerabilities and will surely be exploited by criminal enterprises as well as terrorist organizations.”