Cross-Border Pilot Revived, But Few Haulers Participated

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Dec. 19 & 26 print edition of Transport Topics.

A protracted battle about international trade negotiations appears to have ended in 2011, and for the second time in recent years, the United States agreed to grant Mexican motor carriers the right to operate beyond the 25-mile border zone.

But so far, there have been more talkers than takers.

As of Dec. 14, only three Mexican operators had passed a rigorous series of U.S. safety audits, and only one truck actually had been given the green light to carry freight into the U.S. interior.

A total of 13 other Mexican carriers are in various stages of the application and testing process, said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials.

Only three U.S. carriers also have been approved to cross into the interior of Mexico.

Although it’s still early in the controversial three-year cross-border pilot program, the current pilot numbers are a far cry from those enrolled in the first cross-border program. FMCSA officials were hoping that participation would surpass the 29 Mexican carriers that participated in a 2007 cross border pilot project. Only about 8% of those carriers’ trips were beyond the 25-mile border free-trade zone, said William Quade, FMCSA associate administrator.

A total of 10 U.S. carriers participated in the earlier pilot, Quade said.

Congress ended the 2007 pilot program in midstream in 2009.

When they announced the de-tails of the second pilot on April 13, FMCSA officials estimated that they would need 40 Mexican carriers this time around to participate in the pilot to generate enough inspections to evaluate if they were performing as safely as U.S. truckers.

The cross-border agreement was not formally signed until July 6, and the first Mexican truck didn’t cross the border until late October.

The formal agreement ended $2.4 billion in Mexican retaliatory tariffs on 89 U.S. products, and ended a dispute lasting more than 16 years centered on requirements of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which called for permitting Mexican trucks to travel throughout the United States.

The new pilot program has been as controversial as the first one. Groups including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Teamsters union have complained that Mexican trucks are unsafe and that pilot participants would steal U.S. jobs.

Both the Teamsters union and OOIDA are seeking a review of the pilot project by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, alleging that FMCSA has broken several laws that would ensure that Mexican trucks meet U.S. safety standards.

Two other groups, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club also have joined the request for an appeals court review.

American Trucking Associations has a longstanding policy in support of NAFTA’s cross-border trucking provisions provided they are implemented equally.

“The trucking provisions of NAFTA should allow for more-efficient, safe and secure trade between the U.S. and one of its largest trading partners,” ATA President Bill Graves said in a statement earlier this year. “While we still have reservations about how the U.S. government will provide oversight for Mexican carriers, we hope that Mexico will also provide transparent access for American companies eager to compete in the market.”

In a Sept. 20 letter, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), one of the leading congressional opponents of the pilot program, demanded that FMCSA “address serious concerns about the safety of Mexican trucks on U.S. roads.”

The letter was in response to a critical audit of the program that the Department of Transportation’s inspector general made public in September.

The audit showed that FMCSA was not yet prepared to launch the pilot program with the strict level of scrutiny and monitoring of safety performance mandated by Congress.


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