SPECIAL REPORT: Congress members want trucking pulled from NAFTA

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 4/14/2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 – A group of 78 lawmakers are proposing a way to once and for all put an end to the debate over a cross-border trucking program with Mexico: remove the requirement from the North American Free Trade Agreement treaty.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, circulated a letter to his fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives calling for removal of the cross-border trucking requirement. The final draft of the letter had the signatures of 78 lawmakers supporting the proposal.

The letter, delivered to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Wednesday, lays out the challenges facing the administration in launching another cross-border program.

Among the concerns are the security of the U.S., retaliatory tariffs currently in place and most importantly the safety of highway users.

“We caution the administration that we firmly believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, to receive Congressional support for a cross-border trucking program that allows tens of thousands of Mexican trucks traveling across the lower 48 states,” lawmakers wrote in the letter.

NAFTA does not require the U.S. to accept “subpar safety standards,” and members of Congress are not going to waive that right, the letter states.

“Their standards are not even close to equivalent to U.S. safety requirements. The addition of tens of thousands of substandard Mexican trucks to our roads would jeopardize the safety of our traveling public.”

The letter goes on to offer a “solution that has a greater likelihood of success.” That solution is to renegotiate the NAFTA treaty and eliminate the requirement to open our borders to Mexican trucks.

“This would remedy all the truck safety, homeland security and unemployment issues associated with this long standing trade dispute,” the letter states.

DeFazio said in a press release regarding the letter that even though the Obama administration is indicating it has a cross-border plan, it probably won’t go far enough in alleviating the concerns of Congress.

“Mexico has no meaningful system for commercial driver’s licenses, drug testing or hours of service. This is a trade agreement that threatens the safety of the American public. Mexico has no right to use tariffs to force unsafe trucks with exhausted over-worked, under-paid drivers into the United States,” DeFazio said.

To the Bush administration’s cross-border trucking program was predominantly challenged because of Mexico’s less stringent regulations on hours of service, vehicle safety, and driver training and licensing.

“The Obama administration proposal has not been made public, and I have not seen it, but I am skeptical that Congress will approve any program of this kind. The safety concerns are just too big an obstacle to overcome. This section of NAFTA is just unacceptable and cannot be remedied with tinkering at the edges. I believe the solutions offered in this letter will be more fruitful for the Administration,” DeFazio said in his release.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association applauds the efforts of DeFazio and the other lawmakers to put an end to the debate.

“Every year, U.S. truckers are burdened with new safety, security and environmental regulations. Those regulations come with considerable compliance costs,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.

“Mexico’s regulatory standards and enforcement on trucks aren’t even remotely equivalent to what we have here. To open the border at this time is insanity from both an economic standpoint and safety.”

With no end in sight for the current debates and safety and security concerns, Spencer said DeFazio and the other lawmakers “should be applauded for this letter and their ongoing efforts to keep our highways safe and our nation secure.”

To read the complete letter, click here.

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