Thursday, March 3, 2010 – Despite repeated acknowledgement of the violence and drug trafficking plaguing Mexico, President Barack Obama and Mexico President Felipe Calderón announced that a cross-border trucking program is imminent.
The Obama and Calderón jointly announced a tentative agreement to resume cross-border trucking during Calderón’s state visit to the United States on March 3.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association learned shortly before the announcement that there is not 100 percent agreement on the program, but the Department of Transportation still expects to publish the proposal in the Federal Register in late March or early April.
The plan to press forward with opening the border does not sit well at all with OOIDA.
“Simply unbelievable,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA. “For all the president’s talk of helping small businesses survive, his administration is sure doing their best to destroy small trucking companies and the drivers they employ.”
Spencer pointed to the numerous proposed regulations the Department of Transportation continues to use to target U.S. truckers.
“Small-business truckers are in the midst of dealing with an avalanche of regulatory rulemakings from the administration. They are also struggling to survive in a very difficult economy. This announcement is tantamount to rubbing salt in wounds already inflicted,” Spencer said.
“Mexico-domiciled trucking companies and drivers simply do not contend with a similar regulatory regime in their home country nor must they contend with the corresponding regulatory compliance costs that encumber their U.S. counterparts.”
OOIDA leadership has also learned that while it remains unknown how many motor carriers will be involved in the program, the tentative agreement includes a phased-in opening of the border, which would give reciprocal access to Mexico’s highways to U.S. truckers.
Spencer questions just how many U.S. truckers would even be willing to run into Mexico with the growing violence. He pointed out that even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned trucking companies to stay out of Mexico because of the high number of hijackings.
The program also includes an electronic on-board recorder mandate for all trucks from Mexico participating in the program. OOIDA learned that the EOBRs will be purchased by the United States, although it remains unclear if that money will come from taxes paid by U.S. truckers into the Highway Trust Fund.
The tentative agreement also addresses drug testing and English proficiency.
The announcement of a new cross-border program comes after two years of Mexican tariffs on U.S. products, placed in retaliation for the elimination of the previous cross-border trucking program.
OOIDA contends that the legality of the original tariffs should have been challenged. Spencer noted, “The administration’s failure to challenge those tariffs has jeopardized the livelihoods of millions of truckers and other Americans.”
As part of the agreement to open the border, the tariffs will be phased out with 50 percent being eliminated once the proposal is published to the Federal Register. The remaining half will be eliminated when the first Mexican motor carrier is granted authority.
“Mexico’s economic bullying tactics should not be tolerated. The onus is on Mexico to raise the safety, security and environmental standards for their trucking industry,” added Spencer. “We should not allow ourselves to be harassed into lowering our standards.”
Mexico is also pressuring the U.S. to give Mexican motor carriers that were part of the previous cross-border program credit for the time they operated in the U.S. That means after 18 months’ worth of operations in the U.S., they could be granted permanent operating authority to run in the states.
Even if the pilot program is canceled, Mexican trucks with permanent operating authority would be able to continue to operate in the United States.
“This is supposed to be a pilot program, and pilot programs are supposed to test something. This plan tests nothing,” Spencer said. “The announcement amounts to nothing more than easing the door open for Mexican trucks to gain permanent authority to operate in the U.S.”