April 29, 2011

Mexican truckers seen ready to roll on U.S. roadways

A Mexican transportation attorney said that a recent accord to throw open the U.S. cross-border market to Mexican truckers will result in a significant number of his country's motor carriers entering U.S. commerce.

By Mark B. Solomon

A Mexican transportation attorney said that a recent accord to throw open the U.S. cross-border market to Mexican truckers will result in a significant number of his country's motor carriers entering U.S. commerce.

The remarks, made April 4 by Carlos M. Sesma Mauleón at an industry conference in St. Louis, run counter to earlier predictions by U.S. industry observers that the March 3 agreement would not trigger an influx of Mexican truckers beyond a 25-mile border commercial zone where they are currently allowed to operate. (See "Much ado about nada?")

Sesma Mauleón, founding partner of the Mexico Citybased firm of Sesma, Sesma and McNeese, said there would be "many good operators and good drivers" who will find opportunities in the United States once the border is opened to them. "Once they have the ability to come into the U.S., they will," he told attendees at the Transportation and Logistics Council's 37th annual conference.

Sesma Mauleón said the Mexican government is "putting a lot of emphasis on convincing Mexican truckers to operate in the U.S." But he said he doubts many U.S. truckers will be interested in using the same freedoms to drive into Mexico beyond the border area. "You are crossing into another universe," he said, referring to the difficulties encountered by many foreign companies doing business in Mexico.

Phased-in program
The accord, jointly announced by President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón, establishes what the countries have called a "reciprocal, phased-in program" to allow U.S. and Mexican carriers to operate on both sides of the border. In return, Mexico, which two years ago slapped tariffs on 89 U.S. imports in retaliation for its carriers being denied access to U.S. markets, will reduce those tariffs by half at the time a final agreement is signed, and by the remaining half when the first Mexican carrier is granted operating authority under the program. Mexico will terminate all current tariffs once the program is "normalized."

On April 9, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed a three-phase pilot program for Mexican truck access. The first stage, which would run three months, would begin when a Mexican trucker is issued provisional operating authority and would require each truck and driver to be inspected every time they entered U.S. commerce. The second stage would require each Mexican vehicle to be inspected with a frequency comparable to that of other Mexican trucks crossing the border. Within 18 months of the carrier's receiving its original provisional authority, the certificate would become permanent as long as the carrier has a satisfactory safety rating and has no pending enforcement actions against it.

In addition, Mexican trucks will be prohibited from hauling freight between destinations within the United States. The deal is expected to meet with opposition from some congressmen and from industry interests such as the Teamsters union and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, both of which worry about the accord's impact on U.S. drivers' jobs.

Shippers remain wary
The agreement has been greeted with a collective shrug by a number of U.S. trucking executives. They predict that the prospect of increased legal liability, combined with the cost of operating in U.S. commerce, will keep virtually all Mexican truckers out of the United States.

U.S. shippers may be reluctant to use Mexican truckers, worried that safety and fitness issues might outweigh any cost benefits of using less-expensive Mexican drivers. In addition, shippers may not want to be exposed to potential liability in the event a Mexican trucker is involved in an accident within the United States.

One top executive at a U.S. trucking company, speaking anonymously, said he's been told by his customers that "there is no way" they will use a Mexican trucker for crossborder shipments.

About the Author

Mark B. Solomon
Senior Editor
Mark Solomon has spent 25 years in the transportation, logistics and supply chain management fields as a journalist and public relations professional. From 1989 to 1994, he worked in Washington as a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, covering the aviation and trucking industries, the Department of Transportation, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for Traffic World for seven years in a similar role. From 1994 to 2008, Mr. Solomon ran Media-Based Solutions, a public relations firm based in Atlanta. Mr. Solomon graduated in 1978 with a B.A. in journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C.

More articles by Mark B. Solomon

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