- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

A plan containing guidelines on getting Mexican trucks back on U.S. highways has gone through bureaucratic review, the first step toward ending Mexican tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. goods.

Implementing the plan would quell growing dissent among U.S. businesses that are hurt by Mexico’s tariffs and that continue to besiege Washington with claims that doing nothing will result in job losses. The tariffs were imposed as retaliation for legislation enacted in March that took Mexican trucks off American highways, despite the North American Free Trade Agreement’s program to let them into the United States.

“The proposal has been through the interagency process … and it is ready to go to the Hill,” said Doug Goudie, trade policy director at the National Association of Manufacturers, which has advocated for the Mexican trucks.

Earlier this year, representatives from several parties with interests in the fate of the trucking program, including officials from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), the Teamsters union, and state trucking inspectors, were called to meet with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The subject was, “Tell us what you want,” said Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations.

“It was not a public meeting, but everybody had a say and got to hear what each group thought,” Mr. Boyce said. “The CVSA said, ‘We’ll enforce whatever you want us to,’ and the Teamsters said, ‘You need to fix a number of things, and even then we won’t support anything because it’s taking away American jobs.’ ”

The ATA, he said, thinks the pilot program “was working fine.”

After President Obama signed legislation that, among other things, ended the pilot program for Mexican trucks, Mexico quickly implemented the retaliatory tariffs, affecting 89 U.S. agricultural and industrial products from 40 states.

As the weeks ticked by with no action on a plan to relaunch the trucking program, growing seasons for some affected agricultural producers have come and gone.

Some of the 2,200 unionized employees of Appleton Papers are getting closer to layoffs.

The Wisconsin-based company does more than $50 million of business annually in Mexico. Since the 10 percent tariff on paper was announced in March, Appleton has fretted about laying off some of its production workers, whose pay averages about $20 an hour.

“I can’t really just say when we will have to do this, but I will say this is urgent,” said Bill Van Den Brandt, manager of corporate communications at the 102-year-old firm. “We have employees here who are second and third generation. But we are fighting now against competitors who have a 10 percent price advantage.”

Operating with single-digit profit margins, Appleton is part of a group of carbonless-paper producers that supply 75 percent of the market share in Mexico. The tariffs have been a gift to the competition from other countries, he said.

Companies from across the U.S. and their representatives in Washington have written letters, made speeches and lobbied to allow safety-approved Mexican trucks and truck drivers on U.S. roads.

A June 8 letter from 24 U.S. legislators to Mr. Obama noted that “many companies are being forced to shift production abroad or simply stop shipments.”

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