SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA to Obama: Suspend plans to open border

| 3/27/2009

Friday, March 27, 2009 – The U.S. is not under any obligation to be in a big rush to start any sort of cross-border program and sacrifice safety in the meantime, OOIDA President Jim Johnston explained in a letter sent to President Barack Obama late Thursday, March 26.

The letter addresses the insistence of some members of the Obama Cabinet to move forward “quickly” or “soon” on implementing a new cross-border program with Mexico now that the pilot program established under the Bush administration had its funding pulled in mid-March.

“On behalf of our nation’s small business trucking professionals, I respectfully call upon you to suspend any immediate plans to establish another cross-border trucking program,” Johnston wrote in his letter to Obama.

“That is, at least until the Mexican government and your administration are able to irrefutably ensure that Mexico-domiciled motor carriers, their trucks and their drivers are strictly compliant with U.S. safety, security and environmental standards.”

Johnston recognized the Obama administration’s “integrity and intent” to comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement, but those intentions cannot be placed ahead of the well-being of U.S. citizens.

The U.S. trucking industry is heavily regulated with a tall order of safety, security and environmental regs that truckers and trucking companies must abide by.

“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,” Johnston wrote.

A lot of the current ruckus seems to center on what some perceive to be the obligations of the U.S. under NAFTA and a 2001 tribunal decision that found the U.S. in violation of the agreement.

Johnston pointed out that the treaty states that the U.S. has “the right to ‘adopt, maintain or apply any standards-related measure, including any such measure relating to safety, the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, the environment or consumers, and any measure to ensure its enforcement or implementation’ provided that such measures must be applied in a non-discriminatory manner.”

As far as the tribunal decision goes, it essentially gave the U.S. more latitude in structuring any sort of cross-border program with Mexico.

“Even though a NAFTA Arbitral Panel decided in 2001 that the U.S. was in violation of NAFTA for failing to process the applications of motor carriers to operate within the United States, it affirmed the right of the U.S. to ‘set the level of protection that they consider appropriate in pursuit of legitimate regulatory objectives,’ including the ‘safety of trucking services,’ ” Johnston wrote in his letter to Obama.

“The Arbitral panel did not require the United States to provide ‘favorable consideration to all or to any specific number of applications from Mexico-domiciled trucking companies, when it is evident that a particular applicant or applicants may be unable to comply with U.S. trucking regulations when operating in the United States.’ ”

In a nutshell, Johnston pointed out that the U.S. is allowed to establish safety standards and deny Mexico-based motor carriers authority to operate in the U.S. because the company cannot meet those safety standards.

“Whether or not Mexico-domiciled trucks and drivers can meet our standards is the Mexican government’s responsibility, just as it would be our responsibility to comply with any reasonable safety and environmental regulation Mexico may impose,” Johnston wrote.

“On behalf of our nation’s small business trucking professionals, I only ask that your Administration follow the laws that Congress has put in place to ensure that Mexico-domiciled trucking companies and truck drivers comply with the same level of safety, security and environmental standards that already apply to U.S.-based companies and drivers.”

Click here to read Johnston’s full letter.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor