- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) Eleven Mexican trucking companies filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday, accusing the U.S. government of illegally denying them access to U.S. markets in accordance with NAFTA.
Plaintiffs' attorneys said the $4 billion suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Brownsville, was on behalf of at least 185 Mexican trucking concerns.
The complaint asserts that federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation, violated the Northern American Free Trade Agreement by denying them permits to operate within the U.S. interior and violated the U.S. Constitution by allowing Canadian companies more access than Mexican companies. It claimed U.S. officials discriminated against Mexican nationals by denying Mexican truckers the ability to invest in, own or control trucking companies based in the United States.
"It's inconsistent with NAFTA, and additionally, they've continued to use an application that requires the applicant to state whether he is of Mexican national origin, and those applications for companies of Mexican national origin have never been acted on," said lawyer Kent M. Henderson of the law firm Federico, Castelan and Sayre of Newport Beach, Calif.
Fernando Chavez, eldest son of the late labor leader Cesar Chavez, is the lead lawyer for the lawsuit.
"I believe NAFTA was implemented with the intent of opening up commerce and trade between the three nations," he said. "There is no problem when trade is coming back and forth across the border. What causes the problem is when an individual who's Mexican is bringing it across," he said.
A spokesman for the Transportation Department said he had no immediate comment.
Rob Black, spokesman for the Teamsters union, which represents more than 120,000 U.S. truck drivers, called the suit "baseless."
He said Canada has infrastructure in place to guarantee trucks safety; Mexico does not.
The issue of Mexican trucks in the United States has simmered since a part of the NAFTA agreement called for allowing trucks to travel first throughout Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas by December 1995 and throughout the United States by January 2000.
While Canadian trucks were allowed, the agreement was delayed for Mexican trucks by President Clinton.
After the White House threatened a veto on stricter legislation, a compromise was approved earlier this month that will require U.S. inspectors to conduct safety examinations of Mexican trucking companies and their vehicles, as well as driver's license verification.
Implementing the rules is expected to take months.
The $4 billion includes business and profits lost since 1995, Mr. Henderson said. He said the lawsuit was being filed in Brownsville because it is the source of much of the truck traffic between the United States and Mexico.

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