NAFTA: Not a fair trade agreement, OOIDA says

| Friday, July 19, 2002

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) recently told Congress that truck safety is not the only concern that should worry officials when the U.S. border opens to Mexican trucks.

Many issues remain involving immigration, customs, reduced tax revenue for roads, national security implications, and lack of clear enforcement.

To be specific, due to fuzzy enforcement responsibilities, some states even now simply "waive foreign trucks through the weigh station while U.S. trucks are stopped and put through the normal inspections.

"This is an outrageous state of affairs that we did not bargain for in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)," said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

To make the point, Spencer told Congress of an e-mail he received from a frustrated Vermont state trooper. In March this year, the trooper identified and turned over to the Border Patrol a Mexican National who was deported in 1997.

But no one seemed interested in enforcement, either because local officials were unfamiliar with federal regulations, or because the officials were unsure of their jurisdiction.

For example, the truck in question had 1,046,000 miles on it and was "in terrible shape," the trooper reported.

Moreover, an inspection completed in May 2001 listed numerous defects. But four other inspections dated after May 2001 showed no defects. However, the trooper found that three of the original listed defects still existed. Even the driver said they had never been fixed.

"There are too many of these gypsy truckers who don't pay their fuel taxes or registration fees, operate unsafe trucks, are not paying income tax, social security and probably are not insured," the trooper said, adding that "perhaps you could point me in the direction of some legislators who actually care about this situation, since the one's in Vermont don't."

In short, "State officials do not have the training to recognize whether a truck is in compliance with customs rules, whether a driver is in compliance with immigrations rules, or whether a load is being hauled legally under NAFTA rules," Spencer said. Even if they have the training, they lack the authority to take enforcement action.

Another point: Even if the border opens to Mexican trucks, American truckers won't be allowed to enter Mexico. That's because Mexican labor groups and the Mexican federal transportation agency have pressured President Vincente Fox to bar American trucks.

But the most serious concern should be the relative ease of getting a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) in Mexico.

"OOIDA is less than confident in the security of the Mexican system to issue CDLs," Spencer said. "Beyond whether or not a Mexican CDL indicates whether a driver is qualified to drive a truck, we understand that it is relatively easy to purchase a Mexican CDL if you know the right people or have enough money."

Another problem: What happens if a Mexican driver travels to San Francisco to deliver goods and picks up a load that requires him to drive to another state? "If foreign drivers come into the country legally, and then begin transporting shipments from point-to-point within our domestic marketplace, they are performing work not permitted by NAFTA," Spencer said.

In addition, foreign trucks don't face the same environmental requirements as U.S. trucks; Mexican trucks avoid federal fuel taxes when they fuel up in Mexico and burn that fuel on American roads; and competition from lower-paid Mexican drivers will lower the income of already poorly paid American truck drivers.

Spencer's testimony was submitted June 27 to a joint hearing between the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation, Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Subcommittee; and the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Transportation Subcommittee.

To summarize, Spencer said: "We encourage these committees to continue close scrutiny of the FMCSA's safety enforcement effort. The standard you set should be whether the United States is adequately prepared to ensure that Mexican trucks and drivers comply with our laws and are safe; not whether the department is doing the best it can with its limited resources and staff. But we also encourage the committee to adopt as broad a view of NAFTA compliance as our trade negotiators took when they drafted the agreement. There are more requirements in NAFTA than safety, and if we ignore them, the negative effects of non-compliance will greatly compromise whatever benefits we may see through freer trade."

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