SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA meets with LaHood on Mexican truck program

| 4/1/2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 – Before the U.S. is faced with any real obligation to open its border to Mexican trucks, Mexico is going to have to get its regulatory and enforcement ducks in a row, OOIDA’s Jim Johnston told the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

OOIDA President Jim Johnston and Executive Vice President Todd Spencer were among stakeholders invited to meet today with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on the subject of launching another cross-border trucking program with Mexico.

The meeting came only days after Johnston wrote a letter to President Barack Obama outlining reasons why the administration cannot rush to open the border to long-haul trucking with Mexico. To read the letter clickhere.

Other groups meeting with LaHood included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the American Trucking Associations, the Teamsters and various safety groups.

When OOIDA was called to present its stance on opening the border, Johnston wasted little time before he started clicking off a checklist of reasons why the U.S. was not obligated to open its border en masse to Mexican trucks.

He detailed inadequacies within the Mexican regulatory and enforcement realms, the lack of safety on Mexican highways, and unfair competition that would result because of the lack of enforcement of cabotage laws by U.S. law enforcement on foreign-domiciled trucks.

“Until Mexico develops a safety infrastructure of trucking regulations and enforcement comparable with what truckers face in the states, the U.S. is under no obligation to open up its border,” Johnston told LaHood.

Recognizing that yet another “pilot” program could proceed in opening the border, Johnston stressed the fact that those programs would not be representative of a completely open border.

“I made the point that first of all, any pilot program – the past program and any program they might set up in the future – that allows them to cherry pick the best drivers and the best trucks to send up here to demonstrate how the entire Mexican truck fleet would operate is ludicrous. It’s not representative and doesn’t tell us anything,” he told Land Line.

The reason that a select small group is not representative of trucking in Mexico is simply because U.S. truckers face a tougher regulatory and enforcement realm than their Mexican counterparts.

“As long as the safety infrastructure in Mexico is not there with compatible regulations and enforcement on safety issues and on environmental issues, there is nothing the U.S. can do to ease the way for Mexican trucks to come in,” Johnston said. “They have to come up to our standards. We don’t have the obligation to bring them up to our standards.”

The lack of those safety regulations and enforcement makes impossible even simple tasks like enforcement of hours of service for trucks coming into the U.S. from Mexico, Johnston pointed out.

“They can’t drive up to the border and fill out a logbook saying they just came off a 10-hour break,” Johnston said. “There has to be similar regulations in order for enforcement of U.S. hours of service to even be possible.”

Johnston pointed out to LaHood that under NAFTA, the U.S. is not required to open the border to just any trucks.

“We are required to afford national treatment. That means they would be treated equal, no better, no worse than U.S. trucks and drivers. We weren’t required to give special treatment to them and we certainly shouldn’t,” Johnston said.

Safety was another major argument Johnston made to LaHood.

“We talked about reciprocity; under NAFTA there is supposed to be equal treatment between the two countries. Even before the current drug wars were going on, it wasn’t safe to drive a truck into Mexico,” Johnston said. “It’s certainly not now, especially with the State Department issuing travel cautions for travel even in the area of the border.

Johnston also pointed out that the U.S. is not equipped to enforce regulations such as cabotage on non-U.S. based carriers.

“We pointed out we don’t have the infrastructure in place in this country to prevent cabotage. Once they come up here they will be free to operate any place with any kind of loads they choose to, which will provide nothing but unfair competition to U.S. drivers,” Johnston told LaHood.

Overall, Johnston said LaHood spent most of the meeting simply listening to all sides as they were presented, not giving a lot of indication as to what sort of program might be in the works.

“I think we made a very strong argument against the inability to establish a new pilot program at this time. The other side made what I consider to be a very poor argument as to why we should go ahead with it,” Johnston said. “They didn’t come up with any significant points whatsoever except for the fact that Mexico is imposing tariffs on it.”

Johnston said the proponents for the program seemed to dismiss that fact that Mexico may very well be in violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement because of those tariffs.

It appears that there is some sort of program in development within the Department of Transportation, Johnston said. However, he said how far the program goes toward throwing the border open will center heavily on lawmakers being educated on the concerns revolving around such a decision.

“It’s up to our members again to keep the heat on this issue,” Johnston said.

He encouraged OOIDA members and their friends and families to contact their lawmakers with concerns about opening the border because no program the DOT develops will go through without the involvement of Congress.

If you don’t know who your lawmakers in Congress are, you can call OOIDA’s Membership Department at 800-444-5791 and they will look it up for you.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor