- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

The United States will open roads in 48 states to Mexican trucks by the end of next month, but government and industry officials do not expect an onslaught of big rigs from south of the Rio Grande.
Only 20 of Mexico's 83,000 registered trucking companies have applied to the Department of Transportation for permission to operate in the United States after President Bush lifts a 2-decade-old moratorium on Mexican-owned vehicles.
High insurance rates and a lack of established business relationships for hauling cargo will prevent the vast majority of Mexican firms from sending their trucks onto U.S. highways, according to business groups and a federal report.
"There will not be a cataclysmic rush of Mexican trucks this summer," said Gerald Donaldson, a researcher with Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which has fought to keep the moratorium.
Dave Longo, spokesman for the department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said that of the 20 companies that have submitted applications, "maybe a few will be ready to do business" when the ban is lifted in July.
After a fierce battle with Congress last year, Mr. Bush signed legislation allowing the Department of Transportation to issue permits to Mexican companies after improving its safety-inspection program.
The U.S. Customs Service recorded 4.2 million truck crossings from Mexico into the United States in fiscal year 2001. Virtually all of those trucks stopped in a narrow border zone and transferred their cargo to American drivers.
The department in the next few days will issue an evaluation of efforts to hire more safety auditors and set up new inspection facilities along the border, Mr. Longo said. If Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta certifies that the program is sound, Mr. Bush will issue an executive order lifting the moratorium on Mexican vehicles imposed in 1982.
Still, obstacles remain for Mexican companies that want to do business in the United States.
David Snyder, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association, said underwriters charge high premiums because Mexican companies lack information on driving records and finances.
"There is not yet data on Mexican trucks comparable with the United States," Mr. Snyder said.
A General Accounting Office report released in December showed that few Mexican firms were plugged into U.S. distribution networks, giving them little incentive to drive into the United States.
Also, many Mexican firms will have to upgrade their vehicles' safety and emissions standards in order to pass inspection in the United States.
The GAO report criticized the Department of Transportation's preparations, saying the agency lacked adequate personnel and facilities at the border to conduct thorough inspections of Mexican trucks.
But the agency believes it is up to the task.
"We're 90 percent on the way to completing [preparations] by mid-July," Mr. Longo said.
Before driving outside the border zone, every Mexican truck will have to be inspected by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, an organization of state and local transport officials from the United States, Mexico and Canada.
The department will audit the Mexican companies' safety measures, including drug- and alcohol-testing programs, over the next 18 months and then evaluate their safety records in the United States.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the United States was to have allowed Mexican big rigs to operate beyond the border zone by the end of 1999. But the Clinton administration, under pressure from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, kept the border closed.
Mexico has criticized the U.S. policies, saying the tough standards exceed those for Canadian vehicles operating in the United States. Mexican Economy Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said his government would pursue a "mirror policy" and impose similar rules on American trucks in Mexico.
Industry observers, however, say few American trucking companies operate in Mexico.

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