Bush and Congress Square Off on NAFTA

President Bush has vowed to fight efforts in Congress to block expanded access to the United States by Mexican carriers.

On June 26, the House voted 285 to 143 to prohibit the Department of Transportation from processing applications by Mexican carriers to operate beyond the U.S. commercial zones along the border. The measure, approved as part of the fiscal 2002 transportation funding bill, won’t become law, however, unless the Senate agrees and President Bush signs the funding bill.

Earlier this year, the Bush administration accepted an arbitration panel’s ruling that the United States is bound by the North American Free Trade Agreement to allow expanded U.S. operations by Mexican carriers.

“The president believes very strongly that what the House did is wrong,” said press secretary Ari Fleischer. “The House action had nothing to do with safety, it has to do with banning trucks because they happen to be operated by our friends to the south, and the president thinks that’s wrong.” Fleischer said President Bush is exploring options for fighting the obviously popular initiative in Congress.

The American Trucking Associations also continued its campaign to open the U.S. border to Mexican trucks, sending letters to key senators July 2.
In its letter, the ATA said it supports the Bush administration’s position and is against provisions such as the House measure “which could delay or even nullify the implementation of (NAFTA) with respect to trucking … we strongly support essential increased funding for safety operations requested for the U.S.-Mexico border.”

The ATA also said that allegations about an 18-month lag in the DOT’s ability to inspect Mexican trucks are unfounded. The Bush administration has asked for additional funds for inspections, which ATA said will alleviate any lag. “The 18-month period is the maximum amount of time DOT might take to conduct audits of the Mexican trucking companies,” ATA wrote in its letter. “During audits, government officials review paperwork, including drivers’ log books, truck and trailer maintenance records, insurance coverage, tax payments, etc. While a company could conceivably lose its certificate to operate any trucks through an audit, the individual trucks and drivers about which some are concerned are addressed in the real world by roadside inspections – not by audits.” The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Teamsters union oppose Bush’s plan to comply with NAFTA.