U.S. Seeks to Boost Enforcement of Laws Restricting Cabotage

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter
This story appears in the Aug. 20 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has awarded a grant to educate local and state enforcement officers about truck cabotage rules that forbid foreign carriers from hauling cargo point-to-point within the United States.
The grant is apparently one of FMCSA’s responses to criticisms it received from Congress and the motor carrier industry over its abortive plan to open the U.S.-Mexican border to truck traffic.
The $655,900 grant awarded June 27 to the International Association of Chiefs of Police is intended to train local and state law enforcement officers to identify cabotage, FMCSA said.
Melissa Delaney, an FMCSA spokeswoman, said, “I wouldn’t say that we’re cracking down. But we can’t enforce our laws if our law-enforcement officers don’t know what cabotage is, what it means.”
The grant does not call for officials to conduct inspections, make traffic stops or initiate other special enforcement actions to identify violators. Rather, it provides officers a one-day training seminar and pamphlets about cabotage, said Clarence Bell, a retired Maryland State Police lieutenant who is overseeing the grant for IACP.
The grant follows heavy criticism in recent months of FMCSA’s plan to open the U.S. to Mexican truckers, as called for in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
In June, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of a House transportation subcommittee, said he worried that the pilot project might allow Mexican truckers to make point-to-point hauls in the United States (6-25, p. 25).
“What’s to stop them from going point-to-point in the U.S. and providing a much cheaper service?” DeFazio asked.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), chairwoman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, also has expressed concerns about cabotage, even threatening to introduce legislation that would track trucks from Mexico. 
DeLaney said that although the grant was awarded on June 27, FMCSA has had a contract with the IACP since 2004 to create an awareness of foreign motor carrier vehicles within the law enforcement community. She said the grant awarded on June 27 was not made in direct response to public criticism.
The new cabotage grant has drawn criticism from the Canadian Trucking Alliance. “We question the need for a nationwide policing effort away from the border and wonder whether Canadian carriers and drivers will be sideswiped as a result of concern in some quarters in the U.S. over the possible opening of the southern border,” David Bradley, chief executive officer of CTA, said in a recent statement.
NAFTA provides for trucks from the three nations to deliver goods from their homeland to the others, but does not allow truckers to pick up loads in another country for delivery within that country.
The plan for the cabotage grant with IACP was noted in an April 27 request for comments about the cross-border pilot project by FMCSA Administrator John Hill.
“Cabotage is not strictly a Mexican truck issue,” Delaney said. “It’s in our regulations, but it’s also prohibited in regulations of the Customs and Border Patrol and in immigration regulations.”
Problems with illegal Mexican trucking operations in the United States date back to 1999. At the time, the transportation department’s inspector general reported that although more than 15,000 Mexican-domiciled carriers were permitted to operate in North American Free Trade Agreement commercial zones, some were found to have operated illegally in 28 states.
The concern is that one-way Mexican trucking firms can avoid hauling an empty trailer all the way back to Mexico by using the tractor to pick up and make a domestic U.S. delivery on the way home, according to a 2004 report by the Congressional Research Service.
Other concerns have been voiced in recent congressional testimony examining the cross-border pilot project that would allow 100 Mexican trucking companies to operate beyond the commercial zones along the southwestern U.S. border.
James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was one of those voicing concern about the pilot project.
“. . . There will be a strong temptation by unscrupulous employers to capitalize on lower-wage Mexican drivers and entice them into carrying domestic cargo in the United States,” Hoffa told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on March 8. “We know that this occurs now, as Mexican trucks have been caught over the years operating illegally in more than 25 states.”
CTA’s Bradley said Canadian truckers fear they may be placed at a competitive disadvantage by further law enforcement scrutiny of cabotage rules. Canadian cross-border carriers for many years have had to withstand border cabotage inspections when their drivers cross into the United States, he said, but the same has been true for U.S. drivers entering Canada.
Canadian carriers well understand U.S. post-9/11 security concerns, he said.
“This, however, is a different kettle of fish,” Bradley said. “Now, a truck could be detained and delayed at roadside as a local state trooper or local constable who has read a pamphlet tries to determine whether a truck and its driver are in compliance with the arcane, antiquated and complex rules governing cabotage.”
The IACP federal grant funding is being used to print and distribute educational brochures to 17,000 law enforcement agencies explaining cabotage rules, Bell said.
The money also will be used, he said, to conduct 48 one-day training sessions in cities across the nation with local and state police departments through September 2008.

 

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