Farmers meet with LaHood over Mexican tariffs

Washington state farmers urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to advance a cross-border trucking program with Mexico to end retaliatory tariffs affecting American producers.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray arranged the Sept. 8 meeting with growers. The Washington Democrat has supported reinstating a trucking program that could end Mexico’s tariffs on 99 U.S. products. She inserted language into a federal spending bill July 26, demanding LaHood and Ambassador Ronald Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative, establish and report on a program proposal by Oct. 1.

Still, federal officials have said little recently about a cross-border plan to replace a pilot program Congress ended March 2009. 

On Aug. 31, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he had recently discussed the issue with LaHood. He said federal officials were working daily on resolving the dispute while ensuring safety and security, but he couldn’t provide a timeline. 

“I think there’s a commitment on Secretary LaHood’s part to get this resolved as quickly as possible,” Vilsack said. “He’s fully aware of the impact that any tariff has and particularly ones that have been recently increased and accelerated by the Mexican government, so our hope is that we get this resolved very, very soon.”

President Obama and Mexican President Felipe CalderĂłn discussed cross-border trucking May 19, but the issue was not resolved, according to a June congressional report. The transportation department estimated the cost of the program at $500 million as of March 2008, according to that report.

Last month, Mexico added tariffs to certain farm and non-farm goods, including pork, cheese, pistachios and produce.