Bordering on hysterical

Randy Grider
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The amount of political rhetoric and misinformation being put out on the Department of Transportation’s recently announced cross-border trucking pilot program is truly amazing.

As of press time, the status of the program, which would allow 100 Mexican trucking companies to operate beyond the 25-mile commercial zone, appears to be in limbo. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress to halt the program – it was supposed to be implemented as you’re reading this column.

Opponents, such as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Teamsters Union and Public Citizen, cite safety concerns as the main reason for stopping the program. Proponents like the American Trucking Associations say a more efficient flow of free trade between the United States and Mexico will be good for both countries’ economies.

There seems to be as much spin as fact and an overabundance of adjective-laden hysteria circulating in the mainstream press and on countless websites. Buried within the political spin are real concerns, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials have assured the public that Mexican trucks will have to adhere to all the same requirements U.S. drivers have to meet. Opponents cry foul because they perceive a lack of accountability for Mexican drivers. They want to see details of the process for clearing Mexican fleets and drivers.

We agree. The agency needs to be more transparent so it doesn’t give the appearance of a cloak-and-dagger operation. It also would go a long way in squashing some of the half truths and outright lies being bandied about. (One of the most widely circulated is that Mexican truckers will be allowed to haul point to point within the United States. Not true.)

Another sticky point is the fact that U.S. drivers won’t be given immediate access to haul within Mexico because officials in that country are not ready to deal with American truckers. We agree that any pilot program should be reciprocal in nature. If not immediate, it should be within a few weeks, not months or years down the road.

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Outside these concerns, we have no problem with the pilot program going forward.

Even with the cumbersome transportation system in place, trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada (the third partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement) is growing at a rapid rate, standing today at nearly $2.4 billion daily among the three countries – 75 percent of it by truck. And since NAFTA took effect in the 1990s, U.S. exports to Mexico and Canada have increased 157 percent.

The pilot program is the best way to evaluate whether a smoother flow of trade can take place between the United States and Mexico. Right now, moving freight between the countries requires three or more tractor-trailers. Some opponents of the cross-border trucking program claim that the fleets chosen will likely be the “cream of the crop” – cherry-picked to make it appear to be a model program. If that’s the case, and the program goes forward, then why not lobby to make future Mexican fleets and drivers live up to the same standard?

And if illegal immigration is also a worry, won’t more trade strengthen the Mexican economy, create more in-country jobs and take away the motivation to slip across the border?

An April syndicated column by former editor in chief of the Denver Post, Chuck Green, puts the problem of rhetoric in plain view. “As of the moment, 100 Mexican trucking companies and their thousands of rigs are not going to be required to meet all the rules of the road that are imposed on U.S. truckers. Trucks will be inspected, and their drivers certified, by Mexican authorities in Mexico, before crossing into the United States unchecked at the border,” he wrote.

Green makes implementing the pilot program sound more like the Oklahoma Land Rush of the late 19th century than a serious transportation program that, while not perfect, deserves a chance.

Both Mexico and the United States can gain from a freer flow of goods. But we need to address real concerns and check empty rhetoric at the door.