- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

The White House yesterday vowed to press ahead with plans to open the U.S. border to trucks from Mexico despite a lopsided vote in the House on Tuesday to stop the vehicles from operating in the United States.
The move was a setback to Bush administration plans, announced in March, to allow Mexican vehicles to begin traveling U.S. highways beyond the narrow border strip to which they are now confined.
"The president is disappointed in the action that was taken in the House yesterday," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "The president thinks the action is wrong and is going to work to reverse it."
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the United States was required to allow the 14,000 Mexican trucks that cross the border each day to operate in the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California beginning in 1995. By 1998, 48 states were to have been open to Mexican trucks.
The Mexican trucks are currently limited to a narrow strip along the border that is between two and 20 miles wide.
The Clinton administration, under pressure from congressional Democrats and the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, refused to implement the provision. It cited worries that Mexican trucks are unsafe as the main reason for keeping the border closed. The 1.4 million-member Teamsters union also worries that Mexican truckers would displace Amer-
ican truckers once they could operate freely in the United States.
President Bush promised during the campaign to adhere to the NAFTA provision. He also has made his close relationship with Mexican President Vicente Fox the centerpiece of his desire to cultivate closer ties with all of Latin America.
In March, the Department of Transportation proposed regulations that would allow Mexican trucking companies to operate in the United States beginning in January. The Mexican firms would have up to 18 months before their safety procedures would be inspected.
The House on Tuesday approved an amendment to a transportation appropriations bill sponsored by Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, Minnesota Democrat, that would prohibit the department from issuing permits to Mexican trucking companies. If signed into law, the Sabo amendment would effectively maintain the status quo.
The amendment passed by a decisive 285-143 vote in which 82 Republicans joined 201 Democrats and two independents. The $59.1 billion appropriations bill then passed by a 426-1 vote. The Teamsters lobbied members in support of the amendment.
The Senate has not yet passed a transportation appropriations bill.
Mr. Fleischer said the White House would seek to reverse the House's action when the bill goes to conference between the House and the Senate to reconcile differences.
He said that Mr. Sabo's amendment would strain ties with Mexico.
"Anything that's inconsistent with NAFTA will present a graver problem with Mexico," he added.
Mexico warned yesterday that it would retaliate with trade measures against the United States if the U.S. Senate approves a similar amendment and it becomes law.
Mexican Economy Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said one option could be to block imports of high-fructose corn syrup from the United States, long a source of trade friction between the two countries.
This article is based in part on wire service

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