President Bush has cleared the way for Mexican trucks to travel across U.S. highways, thereby complying with a North American Free Trade Agreement panel ruling issued 21 months ago. But, there will still be barriers to Mexican trucks that do not exist for trucks from Canada.
Under the decision announced by the White House and the U.S. Transportation Department, Mexican trucks will be able to carry cargo on long hauls far from the border area. Currently, cargo is offloaded at the border and taken across the line by drayage trucks, special vehicles that operate only in the border zone.
However, in order to take advantage of the new ruling, Mexican trucks must pass special inspections and Mexican drivers will also have to pass drug and alcohol tests. The drivers will be granted provisional permission to operate in the United States. This will be made permanent 18 months later as long as they have not had any problems.
Such restrictions, however, do not apply to trucks coming from the United States' other major North American trade partner, Canada. U.S. officials say this is because Canadian trucks operate under similar safety and environmental rules.
But Jose Refugio Munoz, general director of the Mexican trucking association, known as Canacar (Camara Nacional de Autotransporte de Carga), says this is nothing more than discrimination against Mexican truckers.
He says this arrangement is not fair and the United States should establish rules that are the same for trucks from the United States, Canada and Mexico. He says the special inspections for Mexican trucks violate the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
U.S. officials say the rules are the same for trucks from all three countries and that the special inspections are meant to ensure that Mexican trucks are as safe as U.S. and Canadian trucks. They say trucks from some of the more modern and efficient Mexican trucking companies could be operating on U.S. highways within a couple of months.
Spokesmen from the U.S. Teamsters Union, which had previously opposed the entry of Mexican trucks, are also praising the Bush administration decision to open the border to trucks that pass the safety inspections.