by Jack Minor
President Obama has promised Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, he would find a way to permit Mexican trucks to travel on US freeways and roads despite widespread domestic disapproval of such an action.
Under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement signed by then President Bill Clinton, both countries were to open their borders to trucks. That portion of the agreement has never been implemented as it has faced opposition from labor organizations and conservative groups.
President George W. Bush first allowed the trucks into the country as part of a pilot program. The program was effectively discontinued when Obama signed an omnibus $410 billion spending bill that eliminated funding for the program. Congress had expressed concerns that the safety requirements had not been met.
Unlike America, Mexico does not have a reliable federal system of background checks prior to issuing a commercial driver’s license. Others have expressed concerns regarding Mexican drivers’ compliance with drug testing standards, physical requirements and safety inspection procedures required by their U.S. counterparts.
In order to quell concerns over the hours of service by Mexican drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association announced it had paid for electronic onboard recorders which include global positioning systems to be installed on all Mexican trucks that previously participated in the pilot program established by Bush. The announcement came weeks after the FMCSA announced a proposed rule requiring U.S. carriers to meet the same requirements at their own expense.
During the pilot program Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, and Calvin Scovel III, DOT Inspector General, told a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing that drivers were designated at the border as being proficient in English even if the driver only understood the sign in Spanish.
Sen. Byron Dorgan D-N.D. asked, “Do you show a driver an octagonal ‘STOP’ sign at the border and qualify him if he explains the sign means ‘ALTO’?”
Alto is the Spanish word for stop.
Scovel reluctantly replied, “Yes, if the stop sign is identified as ‘alto,’ the driver is considered English proficient.”
Labor organizations such as the Teamsters are opposed to opening the roads, citing safety concerns and fear of the loss of trucking jobs to workers who are paid significantly less than their American counterparts.
Others have questioned the wisdom of allowing trucks from Mexico to enter the country unscreened when the country is engaged in a war with drug cartels.
Former Congressman and candidate for governor, Tom Tancredo, said allowing entry to the trucks would be a national security concern.
”It is ludicrous that we are opening our borders to a country that is presently a narco-terrorist state. You really do not have a legitimate government operating the country of Mexico.” He went on to say he has contacts in the Department of Homeland Security who have told him about the cartels’ influence in Mexico. “When you are dealing with Mexico you are essentially dealing with a narco-terrorist state. The narco-terrorists we call the cartels have as much control in Mexico if not more than the government itself.”
Following the discontinuation of the pilot program, Mexico retaliated by imposing $2.4 billion in tariffs on some 90 U.S. products. The Mexican government has demanded that Obama must agree to open U.S. roads to long-haul truckers with assurances the program cannot be stopped by Congress before they would agree to lift the tariffs.
A DOT spokesman told WorldNetDaily the department is currently looking to see if it can find available dollars to fund the program without Congressional approval. Tancredo said he is not sure how Obama can do it without congressional action. “Unless you can do it without any funds whatsoever, there is already a bill by Congress defunding that effort.”
Following a meeting with Felipe Calderon, president of Mexico, Obama announced at a White House press conference the end of the ban on Mexican trucks entering the U.S.
The move has angered one of the President’s key constituencies; labor unions. Todd Spencer, executive vice-president of the Owner Operated Independent Trucker Association, said lifting the ban was “simply unbelievable.”
Spencer went on to say, “For all the President’s talk of helping small businesses survive, his administration is sure doing their best to destroy small trucking companies and the drivers they employ.”