January 17, 2011 8:00 AM, EST

Moving Toward an Open Border

This Editorial appears in the Jan. 17 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

The Department of Transportation has finally taken the first, tentative step toward resolving the long-running battle with Mexico over opening the common border to commercial trucking between the nations.

As we reported last week, DOT sent the Mexican government a two-page outline that the agency termed “an initial concept document” to resolve the situation.

Now, there is a long way to go before this issue can be placed in the “resolved” category, but DOT has at least signaled that it is ready to get serious about fixing this problem.

In return, the Mexican government this week said it would suspend its practice of rotating punitive tariffs it has imposed on U.S. goods as a result of the border issue, and simply leave them where they are now.

Mexico has placed almost $2 billion a year in tariffs on a shifting list of U.S. goods bound for Mexico since early 2009 after DOT — under orders from Congress — pulled the plug on a pilot project that allowed fleets from both nations to deliver across the border.

Labor unions and advocacy groups have pressured Congress to resist the border opening, which was prescribed under terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994, when President Clinton was in office.

These groups claim that Mexican trucks are generally unsafe and driven by unqualified drivers. The canceled pilot project was designed to verify both the condition of the equipment used by Mexican fleets and the qualifications of their drivers.

While there are few details to go along with DOT’s new document, indications are it will be similar to the 2007 plan put forth under President George W. Bush to run a pilot project as a prelude to full border opening.

We believe the border needs to be open, as agreed to during the NAFTA talks, and that all Mexican carriers need to meet applicable U.S. standards — for their trucks and for their drivers — in their American operations.

Almost $700 million in goods and services cross the U.S.-Mexican border every day, and Mexico is one of this nation’s most important trading partners.

It’s time that we honored our commitment to open the border, while at the same time ensuring that the Mexican carriers adhere to the same rules that govern all U.S. fleets.