We are happy to hear that President Obama has decided to restart a pilot program that will allow Mexican trucks to carry goods across the United States. We hope the announcement, which was made last week during a Washington visit by President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, puts an end to Washington’s breach of its obligations under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
Nafta promised to open shipping between the United States and Mexico to carriers from both countries, starting with the border states in 1995 and expanding to the entire country in 2000. The Teamsters union — fearing the competition — immediately objected that Mexican trucks are unsafe. President Bill Clinton, bowing to the union’s power, refused to implement that part of the deal — stopping the Department of Transportation from processing applications from Mexican truckers.
In 2007, President George W. Bush finally started a pilot program to allow some Mexican truckers through and monitor their performance. The Transportation Department found that Mexican trucks and drivers operating here had fewer safety violations than their American counterparts. But soon after taking office, President Obama nixed the program. Mexico retaliated with $2.4 billion in punitive tariffs on American exports.
Suddenly, the Teamsters weren’t the only ones with an opinion. Senator Patty Murray of Washington — apples from her state were on the tariff list — took the side of Mexican truckers. So did American pork producers, big equipment companies and other affected industries.
The deal announced by President Obama is not yet fully done. The terms are similar to those in 2007: Mexican carriers whose trucks and drivers meet certain safety requirements will be allowed to transport goods from Mexico across the United States. But the two countries are still working to define exact safety criteria, as well as the statistical standards to determine when it can be made permanent. Then the administration must submit the deal for public comment before it is formalized.
Not surprisingly, the Mexican government remains cautious. It will only lift half the tariffs when the deal is signed. The other half will come off when the first Mexican trucker is allowed into the United States.
The performance of Mexican truckers should be monitored. But if their good record continues, the United States must do what it promised 17 years ago and open American highways to all approved Mexican trucks.