- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

4:29 p.m.

Mexican truckers soon will have full access to U.S. highways under a new agreement between the United States and Mexico.

Mexican registered trucks currently are allowed to make deliveries in the U.S. only within special commercial zones along the U.S.-Mexican border that extend up to 70 miles into U.S. territory.

Yesterday, however, the first Mexican trucks were inspected by U.S. safety officials under a Bush administration pilot program that will allow up to 100 Mexican trucking companies to operate beyond the commercial zones.

For the time being, the rigs won’t be allowed past the commercial zones. However, Transportation Department officials say that the “on-site safety audits” are among the last obstacles to allowing full access to U.S. roads and that the trucks could receive final clearance within the next two months.

“The United States has never shied away from opportunities to compete, to open new markets and to trade with the world,” Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said today. “Now that safety and security programs are in place, the time has come for us to move forward on this long-standing promise with Mexico.”

Access to all U.S. highways was promised by 2000 under the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, as was access through Mexico for U.S. carriers.

That aspect of NAFTA was stalled by lawsuits and disagreements between the two countries, although Canadian and U.S. trucks travel freely across the northern border.

The pilot program was designed to simplify a process that currently requires Mexican truckers to stop and wait for U.S. trucks to arrive and transfer cargo. The process wastes money, drives up the cost of goods, and leaves trucks loaded with cargo idling inside U.S. borders, Mrs. Peters said.

The secretary added that under current rules, U.S. trucks are not allowed into Mexico because the U.S. has refused to implement NAFTA provisions that would have permitted safe cross-border trucking.

Mexican trucks and their drivers must meet a set of safety criteria before being allowed entry into the U.S., the Transportation Department said.

The American Trucking Associations has praised the administration for gaining access to Mexican roads for U.S. trucking companies.

“Such regulation of Mexican carriers operating in the United States will ensure a level playing field in cross-border operations,” said Clayton Boyce, a spokesman with the trade group.

However, the Teamsters union opposes the program.

“President Bush is willing to risk our national security by giving unfettered access to America’s transportation infrastructure to foreign companies and their government sponsors,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said. The Bush administration “is playing of game of Russian roulette on America’s highways,” he added.

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