By Clifford F. Lynch
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
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.
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
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
In spite of those demonstrated benefits, the outcry from politicians and
special interest groups continues. A few recent examples:
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein has opened an inquiry into the impact of Mexican
trucks on air quality and safety.
- The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has testified
before a Senate committee that the DOT has not properly addressed safety and
- In April, the Teamsters Union, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, and the
Environmental Law Foundation filed suit in federal court to block the pilot
- The John Birch Society, a group with no apparent transportation ties, has
launched a protest, citing security concerns about "allowing
unregulated shipments to move freely on our highways."
- In perhaps the most appalling move of all, the Senate slipped an amendment
to halt the pilot program into the Iraq appropriations bill, which was
subsequently vetoed by the president.
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,
We have bigger fish to fry in this industry. Let’s move on.