Cross-border trucking proposal coming

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a May 6 congressional hearing that a cross-border trucking program plan with Mexico would be announced “closer than soon.”

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) questioned LaHood at the end of a Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee meeting. She has pushed for progress on a new program to end retaliatory tariffs imposed by Mexico after Congress voted to end cross-border trucking last year.

Murray said she hopes for resolution when Mexico’s President’s Felipe Calderon visits President Obama this month. A few days before the hearing, she had met with Mexico’s Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan, who told her Calderon planned on raising the issue during the visit.

LaHood said the DOT, cabinet members and Obama’s administration had “worked very hard to put a proposal together we will be announcing it very soon.”

“We will come to Capitol Hill and brief every senator that has an interest in what it says; get feedback,” he said. “Our intention is, President Obama’s administration’s intent is to restart this program. It’s part of NAFTA. It needs to be restarted. We believe if it is restarted these tariffs will be lifted.”

The secretary said they are “very close to briefing you and other senators” when Murray interrupted him.

“Very close,” she asked. “Sooner than soon?”

“It is closer than soon,” LaHood responded.

Murray had also questioned him on the subject at a March 4 hearing, where he had said those involved with a proposal were very close to discussing it with Congress.

The FMCSA did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

On April 14, U.S. Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.) and 78 congressional members sent LaHood and U.S. Trade Rep. Ronald Kirk a letter asking them to renegotiate a section of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He describes this section, U.S. NAFTA Annex I (I-U-21), as committing the United States to “liberalize cross-border trucking.”

“NAFTA does not bind the U.S. to accept subpar safety standards, and Congress is not going to waive our rights under NAFTA,” DeFazio wrote. “We are entitled to require comparable standards for safety from Mexican trucking companies.”

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On May 6, the U.S. State Department of State issued a security warning for U.S. citizens traveling to and living in Mexico, but officials have not issued specific warnings for truckers.

Most of the drug-related violence is in the border region and along major drug trafficking routes. In recent months, drug traffickers have used stolen trucks to block major highways and prevent the military from responding to criminal activity, most notably in the Monterrey area, according to the department announcement.