Last week, a confidential source leaked the fact that one of the latest U.S. demands in the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations was the prevention of long-haul Mexican truckers from operating in the United States. In early 2015, then Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced that after years of debate and controversy, Mexican drivers would be allowed to operate on U.S. highways. Up until then, most had been limited to the commercial zones along the U.S. – Mexican border. To understand the real significance of this, one must look back almost 25 years to when NAFTA was signed. Under the terms of the agreement, on January 1, 2000, both Canadian and Mexican truckers would be allowed on U.S. roads. In 1995 however, the Clinton administration put the trucking provisions of NAFTA on hold – but only for the Mexican truckers – citing concerns about the trucks’ ability to meet U.S. safety standards.
In 2001, Congress enacted legislation that required certification on 22 safety standards before Mexican trucks would be allowed to travel beyond the commercial zones. The following year, then Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta confirmed that these requirements had been met. Legal challenges however, kept the initiative tied up in court until 2004, when the Supreme Court resolved the matter, ruling that Mexican truckers should be allowed into the United States
In February, 2007, DOT announced a one-year pilot program that would allow selected Mexican carriers to make deliveries beyond the border commercial zones. To participate, truckers were to 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. Congress however, not to be outdone by the Supreme Court, refused to allocate the funds for the program.
Finally, in 2011, another pilot program began with 15 participating Mexican carriers, and in October. 2014, DOT declared there was sufficient positive data to move forward. Secretary Foxx’s January decision was based on that data. The decision was no doubt also influenced by the fact that Mexico had placed $2 billion in retaliatory trade tariffs on U.S. goods.
The allowance was not without controversy, and was once attacked on the legal front. The DOT Inspector General has stated that there was insufficient test data on which to base a decision, and both the Teamsters and the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) vehemently objected. There was no further legal remedy however, and we have moved ahead without incident until now. Long time opponents will be delighted of course. The Teamsters have said that such a prohibition would confirm their position that crow-border trucking takes away American jobs. This is hard to accept in view of the recent ATA reports on driver shortages. Hopefully, the negotiations will end soon, with all three countries committed to playing nice.