SPECIAL REPORT: DOT attempts defense of cross-border program

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 3/10/2008

Monday, March 10, 2008 – A press conference staged by the Department of Transportation in defense of the cross-border trucking program with Mexico drew immediate criticism from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

In a press conference today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters contended that now is not the time to halt efforts to implement trucking provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Peters said a group of more than 69 U.S. companies and agricultural and business organizations support the program because of the benefits it provides to U.S. exporters who every year ship billions of dollars worth of products and produce into Mexico.

In a press release following the press conference, Peters hinted toward retaliation by Mexico if the program is stopped.

If the program is stopped by Congress, Mexico has the right under the rules of NAFTA to impose fees and tariffs on U.S. goods that would surely result in lost business and lost jobs, she stated in the written release.

“It’s a sad attempt at economic fear mongering,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer in a press release. “Despite their lip service, they well know the pilot program is outside of the law.”

The Association contends the economic interests of a few have been placed above the safety and security of many.

“The Secretary seems to be encouraging Mexico to step in and help the Bush administration force this down the throats of Americans,” Spencer said in the release. “Where does she get off encouraging Mexico to impose fees and tariffs on U.S. goods?”

Spencer finds humor in the Secretary’s contention that the cross-border pilot program presents U.S.-based truckers with a “promise of prosperity.”

“Safety standards in Mexico simply are not on par with those here, and few U.S. trucking companies even appear interested in going south,” Spencer said. “The program is being spun as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

“The program is supposed to work both ways across the border, and yet there are few signing up on either side. Big businesses want the cheap labor, but for a number of reasons trucking companies on both sides of the border don’t want to get involved.

“Reality is, the program goes against U.S. law and is not required by NAFTA.”

The regulations require the U.S. to allow Mexican trucks into the country under the same rules that apply to their American counterparts.

“The DOT is accepting Mexican licenses, drug testing and medical certification laws in place of U.S. laws governing those subjects. These exemptions from domestic laws are not required by NAFTA and clearly violate U.S. law,” Spencer said.

The program is challenged by a lawsuit filed by OOIDA. The industry is now waiting on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to rule on that and other lawsuits challenging the legality of the cross-border program. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed its suit shortly after the program began Sept. 6, 2007.

Oral arguments in the case – along with arguments in separate suits filed against the program by the Sierra Club and the Teamsters – were heard by the appeals court on Feb. 12. The cases are on an expedited schedule and a ruling is expected in the near future.

In the meantime, the cross-border program will be under the microscope at a Senate Commerce hearing scheduled for Tuesday, March 11. OOIDA will be among other groups presenting testimony at the hearing.

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