- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MEXICO CITY (AP) - U.S. products ranging from potatoes to pet food will be subject to Mexican tariffs of 10 to 20 percent in retaliation for the cancellation of a NAFTA cross-border trucking program.

The list published Wednesday by the Mexican government comprises 90 U.S. products, also including many fruits and products such as toilet paper and sunglasses.

The tariffs will take effect Thursday, according to a decree published in the government’s federal register, affecting about $2.4 billion in annual trade.

Economy Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Mateos first announced the tariffs on Monday, saying they were Mexico’s response to a U.S. decision last week to end a pilot program that allowed some Mexican trucks to transport goods deep into the United States.

Mexico contends that the United States’ action violates a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement that was supposed to have opened cross-border trucking by January 2000.

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

Wednesday’s decree remarked that the pilot program’s cancellation “is 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 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.

But 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 disputes between the U.S. and Mexico over the 1994 NAFTA accords.

In 2001, Mexico brought the case before a dispute-resolution panel, which recommended that the United States comply with the program and 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 Writer Lisa J. Adams contributed to this report.

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