- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bush administration Cabinet members joined Mexican officials yesterday to assure the public that Mexican trucks are safe to drive on U.S. highways and to promote increased trade between the two countries.

Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters, appearing alongside U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Mexican Transportation Secretary Luis Tellez, sought to assuage American fears of Mexican trucks by conducting a public safety inspection of two vehicles participating in a cross-border pilot program.

Each truck’s country of origin remained a mystery while a Maryland state trooper performed safety inspections. After kicking the tires and checking the headlights, among other things, both trucks passed inspection.

Across the street, members of the Teamsters union chanted protests and scoffed at the safety demonstration.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters strongly opposes efforts to allow long-haul Mexican trucks on U.S. highways, contending the trucks do not meet U.S. safety standards. The union also thinks Mexico‘s drug- and alcohol-testing program is lax and that Mexico does not keep accurate track of driving records.

“Surely someone who grew up in Arizona, as Mary Peters did, understands that Congress killed the program because it’s dangerous for American motorists,” said Teamsters President Jim Hoffa.

Mrs. Peters yesterday urged Congress not to pass legislation that would end the one-year cross-border trucking program between the two countries.

“With the change of just a few words, Congress can show that we can trade with the world, keep our highways safe, and our companies competitive at the same time,” Mrs. Peters said.

The Department of Transportation started the cross-border trucking project last month, allowing up to 100 U.S. trucking companies to operate in Mexico and up to 100 Mexican trucking companies to operate beyond a 25 mile-wide zone on the U.S. side of the border. The Senate last month put the program in jeopardy by voting to block funding for it.

Congress has spent $500 million since 1994 to prepare for the start of cross-border trucking, funding hundreds of trained inspectors to ensure that every truck from Mexico that participates in the program meets U.S. safety standards.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, ratified in 1994, requires open borders for long-haul vehicles, but the U.S., citing safety concerns, has limited Mexican trucks to U.S. border cities.

“We expect Congress to see the program as an opportunity for U.S. consumers and businesses to benefit from a door-to-door delivery program,” said Mr. Tellez.

The Bush administration said it will try to persuade Congress to rethink the legislation in both houses that blocks funds for the program.

“There are a number of provisions in the bills offensive to the administration,” Mrs. Peters said.

Mr. Gutierrez emphasized the importance of increasing trade with Mexico, noting that a free-roaming environment for Mexican trucks in the U.S. could save consumers in both countries more than $400 million a year in transport costs. Trucks carry 70 percent of the $330 billion worth of goods that the U.S. and Mexico trade each year.

“By delaying funding for the program, Congress risks slowing down the economy,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “This is about shaping future growth.”

The Teamsters, meanwhile, continue to fight the trucking program in Congress and in court. The union plans to appeal a September decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that denied an emergency petition sought by the Teamsters, the Sierra Club and consumer group Public Citizen to halt Mexican trucks from entering U.S. roadways.

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