Will U.S. Finally Keep Its Word with Mexico on Cross-border Trucking?

President Obama and Mexican President Calderon announced this afternoon that the U.S. government will finally allow qualified, safety certified Mexican truckers to deliver goods in the United States, fulfilling a commitment our government made more than 17 years ago in the North American Free Trade Agreement. It’s about time.

America’s violation of the agreement had resulted in sanctions against $2.4 billion worth of U.S. exports to Mexico. According to one press report today,

The plan, announced at a news conference by the two presidents, will allow for half of those tariffs to be lifted immediately. It will establish a reciprocal, phased-in pilot program that allows Mexican trucks to operate inside the U.S. provided they comply with a series of safety and driver-skills and language tests monitored by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Under the NAFTA agreement, the United States and Mexico agreed to allow trucks from each country to deliver goods to destinations inside the other country, provided the trucks met the same safety regulations that apply to domestic truckers. But under pressure from the Teamsters Union, President Clinton refused to implement the program during his presidency.

President George W. Bush, to his credit, tried to fulfill the U.S. obligation under NAFTA. His administration launched a pilot program in 2007, which allowed a limited number of Mexican trucking companies to deliver goods to U.S. destinations beyond the 25-mile commercial zone along the U.S.-Mexican border. Citing unsubstantiated safety concerns, and in the face of ongoing union pressure, a bipartisan majority in Congress voted to cut off funding for the program in 2009.

After years of patiently waiting for its northern neighbor to do the right thing, and after lawfully pursing its grievance through procedures set up by NAFTA, the Mexican government responded to the end of the pilot program by imposing punitive duties on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. exports to Mexico. The duties were strategically aimed at a range of politically sensitive products.

The safety issue was never a valid reason to suspend the program. As we’ve noted at the Center for Trade Policy Studies (time and time again), the NAFTA agreement requires Mexican trucks to meet every safety standard and then some that are imposed on U.S. trucks. Under the pilot program, Mexican trucks actually proved to have a better safety record than U.S. trucks.

Under the NAFTA agreement, President Obama has the authority he needs to bring the United States into full compliance. He should act quickly to bring this embarrassing and damaging episode to an end.