DeFazio calls for Obama to stand up to ‘illegal’ retaliatory tariffs

| 3/25/2009

Despite the fact that Mexico says the axing of the long-haul cross-border trucking program is a NAFTA violation, Mexico is now being accused of violating that same agreement with tariffs it slapped on 90 some odd U.S. goods implemented only days after the trucking program ended. 

Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon and a vocal opponent of the program, sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take action against Mexico’s “illegal” tariffs.

In a press release issued by his office on March 20, DeFazio pointed out that several of the tariffs are aimed at products produced in DeFazio’s home state and the home states of various other lawmakers who actively sought to shut down the program.

“These tariffs are illegal and should be treated as nothing more than political gamesmanship. Mexico has no legal grounds to implement any of these tariffs. Even if there was a legal basis for the tariffs, the $2.4 billion price tag is a disproportionate response, and the 90 U.S. products targeted for tariffs were illegally selected,” DeFazio wrote in his letter to Obama.

Those pushing to open the border to Mexican trucks often point to a 2001 NAFTA tribunal decision that found the U.S. in violation of the agreement, because at that time the U.S. was refusing to open the border.

However, there was much more to the decision than that.

“In 2001, a NAFTA arbitration panel found that the U.S. refusal to permit entry to any Mexican truck carriers was NAFTA illegal, but the panel also made it clear that U.S. safety standards do not need to be waived to comply with NAFTA,” DeFazio explained in his letter to Obama.

DeFazio leaned on several studies that have time and again proven the lack of equivalent safety performance by Mexican motor carriers. He pointed out that repeated studies by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General showed that neither Mexico’s carrier truck fleet nor its driver licensing and safety rules meet the requirements of U.S. law.

“The path forward is clear. Your administration can be compliant with the 2001 NAFTA arbitration panel by allowing Mexican trucks access to the U.S. roadways if those carriers can prove they meet U.S. safety standards regarding hours of service, driver training, licensing, drug testing and vehicle safety,” DeFazio wrote.

“This is entirely reasonable. And your administration has clearly indicated this is the path it intends to take, making the Mexican tariff threat a political stunt. Any action to impose a tariff would be illegal.”

– By Jami Jones, senior editor