- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MEXICO CITY (AP) - U.S. exports ranging from fruits and vegetables to toilet paper and deodorant will be subject to Mexican tariffs of 10 to 20 percent beginning Thursday in retaliation for the Obama administration’s cancellation of a cross-border trucking program.

The list published Wednesday by the Mexican government affects about $2.4 billion in annual trade and 90 U.S. products, including many fresh fruits and vegetables, and products from sunglasses to toothpaste. The tariffs will take effect Thursday, according to a decree published in the federal register.

Economy Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Mateos announced the tariffs in response to the U.S. closure of a pilot program that allowed some Mexican trucks to transport goods deep into the United States. That program was a step toward complying with a requirement of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement that Mexican trucks gain full access to U.S. highways by January 2000.

Ruiz Mateos called it “wrong, protectionist and a clear violation of the treaty.”

Wednesday’s decree described the cancellation as “evidence that the United States and Mexico have not been able to reach a mutually satisfying solution in the controversy over cross-border transport.”

The Teamsters union, consumer groups and independent insurers pressured Congress to keep the trucks off U.S. roadways, citing safety concerns. But some of the strongest opposition has come from unions concerned about U.S. drivers losing jobs and work to lower-paid Mexican drivers.

The trucking program, begun in 2007, allowed a few Mexican trucks beyond a border buffer zone. It died last week when President Barack Obama signed a sweeping government bill that barred spending on it.

The administration says Obama has asked the office of the U.S. Trade Representative to work with the Department of Transportation, State Department and Congress to create a new program.

Activists and industry associations in the United States had argued that Mexican trucks are unsafe. The Mexican government says there is no basis for such concerns, noting there were 46,000 crossings during the pilot program without any significant incidents.

The trucking program is one of the last and largest NAFTA disputes between the U.S. and Mexico.

In 2001, Mexico brought the case before a dispute-resolution panel, which recommended that the United States allow Mexican trucks within its borders.

“There’s a growing concern about the hypocrisy of trade policy where we (the United States) say, ‘Do as we say, not as we do,’” said Kevin Gallagher, an economist and international relations professor at Boston University who has written three books on NAFTA. “I think countries are getting a little fed up with that double standard.”

___

Associated Press Writers Lisa J. Adams in Mexico City and Suzanne Gamboa in Washington contributed to this report.

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