The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was supposed to give Mexican truckers full and free access to U.S. highways. But 13 years after the agreement took effect, Mexican truckers are still stuck in idle, barred from making deliveries outside U.S. commercial zones that extend roughly 25 miles along the border.
Under the original schedule, NAFTA would have opened U.S. roadways to both Canadian and Mexican truckers on Jan. 1, 2000. In 1995, however, the Clinton administration put the trucking provisions of NAFTA on hold—but only for Mexican truckers—citing concerns about the trucks' ability to meet U.S. safety standards.
In 2001, Congress enacted legislation requiring U.S. government agencies to meet 22 safety requirements before Mexican truckers would be allowed to travel beyond the commercial zones. The following year, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta confirmed that those requirements had been met. Legal challenges, however, kept the initiative tied up in court until 2004, when the U.S. Supreme Court resolved the matter, ruling that Mexican truckers should be allowed into the United States.
This past February, the Department of Transportation (DOT) finally announced a one-year pilot program that will allow selected Mexican carriers to make deliveries beyond the U.S. commercial zones. To participate, truckers must pass a safety audit by U.S. inspectors, including a complete review of driver records, insurance policies, drug and alcohol testing programs, and vehicle inspection records.
Thirteen years after NAFTA became law, that seems appropriate to me, particularly since thousands of Canadian trucks move freely around the United States. Besides, the United States has spent more than $500 million since 1995 to improve inspection stations on the southern border and to pay for more than 600 truck inspectors.
The benefits of NAFTA are pretty clear. In 2006, imports and exports between the United States and Canada totaled $534 billion, and U.S.-Mexico trade totaled $332 billion. Every day, $2.4 billion in trade moves between the three countries.
In spite of those demonstrated benefits, the outcry from politicians and special interest groups continues. A few recent examples:
Safety should be our foremost consideration, and in my opinion, the DOT pilot program more than adequately addresses it. If that does not prove to be the case, we can deal with it then; but let's not create a safety or environmental straw man simply to satisfy special interest groups. And let's not violate the spirit of NAFTA because of congressional concerns about illegal immigrants. This is a totally separate issue.
I'm not a foreign relations expert, but you don't need to be one to understand that we should treat both of our NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico, equally.
We have bigger fish to fry in this industry. Let's move on.