- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

The Bush administration yesterday opened the way for Mexican companies to begin hauling cargo and passengers throughout the United States.
The move fulfills U.S. obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement and will allow Mexican-based truck and bus service into the lower 48 states as soon as one month from now.
Congress in 1982 said the United States no longer would accept applications from Mexican-based operators to work outside of a narrow commercial zone along the border. Under NAFTA, signed in 1992, the United States was supposed to drop the moratorium in phases between 1995 and 2000 but held back, citing safety concerns.
"By modifying the moratorium, President Bush has made good on his commitment to open the border to international trucking and cross-border regular-route bus service," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in a statement.
Unions had raised the biggest objections to allowing long-haul Mexican companies to operate in the United States. But the reaction yesterday was muted.
"The Teamsters are glad that the safety standards that we fought for and won are being implemented," said Rob Black, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Teamsters wanted Mexican truckers to face the same rules as their U.S. counterparts, including safety inspections on trucks and requirements for drivers.
The Transportation Department's inspector general said last year that, for Mexican trucking to be safe, U.S. officials must place inspectors at each commercial border crossing during all operating hours, perform safety reviews before granting Mexican-domiciled carriers conditional authority, inspect all long-haul vehicles and drivers before they enter and operate in the United States, and provide adequate facilities to conduct inspections and put unsafe vehicles out of service.
The Transportation Department yesterday said those safeguards are in place.
Mr. Bush's decision allows the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to start processing the 130 applications received from Mexican companies that want to operate in the United States.
The audit also involves U.S. inspectors going to the company's offices and making sure there is an adequate safety program, he said, and drivers will be subject to U.S. drug and alcohol requirements.
"Mexican carriers and drivers must meet the same standards as U.S. operators," Mr. Mineta said.
Trucks and buses should be rolling across the border in several weeks to a month, Mr. Longo added.
A team of 252 inspectors, auditors and safety investigators will police Mexican companies and trucks, the government said.
The trucking issue was a sore spot in U.S.-Mexico trade relations. The Clinton administration, which signed NAFTA into law, held off on implementing the regulations because of safety concerns as well as pressure from Congress and unions.
Mr. Bush last year pledged to open the border by the end of 2002.
The new regulations will allow Mexico-based companies to operate between the two countries, not from point-to-point within the United States. The Transportation Department said most carriers would continue to operate only in the narrow commercial zones in border states Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California.
In 2001, about 4.3 million crossings were made from Mexico to the United States, with about 63,000 of those made by Mexican trucks, the department said.
A handful of Mexican companies were operating in the United States prior to the 1982 moratorium and have continued to work on both sides of the border.


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