Resolution of cross-border trucking dispute at summit unlikely

| Monday, August 10, 2009

Opening the border to long-haul trucks from Mexico was certainly discussed at the North American summit, but initial reports from the talks say a resolution probably won’t happen.

The meeting between the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico is set to culminate late Monday. For years, it’s been dubbed the “Three Amigos Summit” by the media.

While the long-haul cross-border trucking program with Mexico has been a bone of contention between the two countries for some time, the meeting between President Barack Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was reportedly expected to center on a joint plan of attack on the swine flu.

The Associated Press reported that Calderon pressed Obama on the cross-border issue, claiming that the lack of the program had more to do with limiting competition and not with ensuring safe operations of Mexican trucks on U.S. roads.

Apparently Obama was prepared for the talks to head down that path. Heading to Mexico on Sunday, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton was quizzed by the media about what Obama’s stance in those talks would be.

“Obviously this issue is going to come up, and the president is committed to making sure that we fulfill our international obligations and that any regulations and so forth that are put into place are consistent with our agreements,” Burton told reporters.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has long opposed opening the border to long-haul trucks until safe operation by Mexican trucks on U.S. highways can be ensured and Mexican trucking companies are required to meet the same rules and regs that U.S. trucking operations face.

That is a point OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston drove home in a letter to Obama earlier this year.

“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.

OOIDA remains strong on its position that the safety of U.S. highway users cannot be sold or compromised by throwing a program together to appease Mexico.

Johnston also stressed in his letter to Obama that the U.S. is not under any sort of obligation to lower safety standards or regulatory compliance for Mexican trucks.

Johnston wrote in the letter that NAFTA gives the U.S. “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.”

“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.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor
jami_jones@landlinemag.com