Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. proposed opening its highways to Mexican trucks under a second test program that would require Mexican drivers to be proficient in the English language and U.S. traffic laws.
The two countries may reach an agreement to allow cross-border trucking within weeks, Mexican Deputy Transportation Minister Humberto Trevino said today in a telephone interview.
As part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. agreed to allow Mexican trucks access to deliver goods in the U.S., a pledge it never fully honored after safety advocates and union officials said Mexico’s trucks and drivers didn’t meet U.S. standards. The U.S. canceled its previous trucking program in 2009, leading Mexico to impose tariffs on U.S. products.
President Barack Obama’s “administration will continue to work with Congress and other stakeholders to put safety first,” the U.S. Transportation Department said in a statement. “As specifics of the program are developed, the administration will continue to ensure that the program delivers job growth and economic opportunities here at home.”
Mexican officials will send comments and clarifications by Jan. 10 on the plan the U.S. released today and U.S. transportation officials will travel to Mexico to begin talks, Trevino said.
Willingness to Negotiate
“This is where we are now: a conceptual document, willingness to work and negotiate,” he said. “The idea is to finish it in coming weeks.”
Trevino spoke following a phone call between U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Juan Molinar Horcasitas, Mexico’s transportation and communications minister. Olivia Alair, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Department, confirmed that the call took place and declined to comment on the timing of an agreement.
The proposed program would be an improvement over the one-year pilot project that ended in 2009 because it would last three years, would include more transportation companies and would streamline paperwork at border crossings, Trevino said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has criticized the Obama administration for its relationships with business, praised the proposed program, saying it would help the goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years.
Mexico is the U.S.’s third-biggest trading partner, after Canada and China. Trade between the two nations was $306 billion in 2009, the last year for which data are available.
Mexico, beginning in March 2009, has imposed import tariffs on a rotating list of 99 U.S. products valued at about $2.5 billion. Products subject to the levy may include rice, beef, soy sauce and sunglasses.
Martin Rojas, the American Trucking Associations’ vice president for security and operations, called the draft “a positive development in trying to bring forth this longstanding dispute between the U.S. and Mexico.”
“We look forward to seeing more details about this proposal in the near future,” Rojas, whose Arlington, Virginia-based group represents large U.S. trucking companies including YRC Worldwide Inc., said in a telephone interview.
Jose Refugio Munoz, the head of the Mexican trucking industry group known as Canacar, said he is skeptical the program will work because of differences in Mexican and U.S. environmental and labor regulations.
“We see this as a decision by the U.S. government to get Mexico to withdraw measures such as tariffs on certain products,” he said in an interview.
Groups including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association criticized the plan, saying it would jeopardize U.S. jobs because while Mexican drivers would want to drive in the U.S., drivers from the U.S. wouldn’t want to traverse Mexican highways.
“Until the Mexican government is able to significantly diminish the rampant crime and violence within its borders, commits to addressing its deteriorated infrastructure, and promulgates regulations that significantly improve its trucking industry, U.S. truckers will be unable to benefit from the anticipated reciprocity,” Todd Spencer, the group’s executive vice president, said today in an e-mailed statement.
The dispute over allowing Mexican trucks beyond a limited zone close to the U.S. border dates back to 1995 when the U.S. refused to implement the Nafta-required cross-border plan.
The rules would only allow Mexican trucks to haul goods between the U.S. and Mexico and would prohibit them from moving loads within the U.S.
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