The U.S. Senate has voted to impose safety rules on Mexican long-haul trucks in the United States, though critics say that action would violate the North American Free Trade Accord.
Following a similar move by the House [of Representatives], senators approved a series of restrictions for Mexican truckers. The measure's supporters say they are not anti-Hispanic nor opposed to free trade, but are worried about the safety of American motorists. Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan said, "This is not about [being] anti-Mexico. It's not sending a message to anybody. It's simply standing up for safety on America's highways. We are nowhere near ready to be able to allow Mexican long-haul trucks into this country. Their safety standards are nowhere near compatible to ours."
The powerful Teamsters [truckers] union and private safety groups are also backing the rules. Under current law, Mexican rigs can not operate outside a narrow (20 mile) border zone. But under the terms of NAFTA, President Bush has proposed to open the nation's freeways to Mexican long-haul drivers in January.
The White House and its allies charge the safety measures would undermine the free-trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada. For Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, the rules can not be justified. "But you cannot defend, legitimately, honestly and intellectually, a situation where we say to our neighbors and to legitimate truckers 'You gotta stay - you can't come any more than 20 miles into the United States.' That is not where we should be."
The president has threatened to veto the trucking rules if they reach his desk. The standards are part of a larger transportation bill, which must be reconciled with the version passed by the House. Republicans hope to kill or at least modify the rules during negotiations in September.