The Obama administration has granted provisional operating status to 13 Mexican trucking firms that have hauled goods to and from the United States during a pilot program for the past three years.
The program expired at the start of October. The administration said little about what would happen next and various commodity groups, including Washington apples, were nervous Mexican tariffs might resume.
“The purpose of the program was to evaluate the safety of cross-border, long-haul operations,” Marissa Padilla, a spokeswoman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said in a written response to a Capital Press inquiry.
The Department of Transportation is awaiting reports, collecting data and still evaluating before determining the next course, she said. Meanwhile, the 13 firms will be allowed to continue operations in the U.S., she said.
In an Oct. 1 letter to the FMCSA, Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said too few Mexican truckers participated in the program to meet congressional requirements for statistical validity. Only two Mexican carriers accounted for more than 81 percent of inspections and 90 percent of border crossings, he said. Further, safety regulations have largely been unenforced on Mexican carriers, he said. But FMCSA staff gave the impression in July that it hopes to extend or make the program permanent, he said.
The U.S. and Mexico agreed to allow each other’s trucks into the interior of their countries to deliver and pick up goods as part of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. Trucks were not to compete with domestic trucking within the country.
The World Trade Organization found the U.S. in violation of the agreement in 2001 for not allowing Mexican trucks and authorized Mexico to retaliate.
Retaliation was averted with a 2007 Bush administration pilot program allowing some Mexican trucks to make deliveries to Chicago.
The Teamsters Union, citing safety and job loss concerns, opposed the pilot program and on March 11, 2009, Congress cut funding, ending it.
Mexico retaliated with tariffs of 5 to 45 percent on U.S. goods and expanded it in 2010. Some 99 products were valued at $2.4 billion by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce when they were targeted in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Washington apples were second only to pork in U.S. agricultural commodities affected. Dairy, fruit, grain, potatoes and Christmas trees also were hurt. The Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, Wash., estimated losses from the tariffs at $44 million for Washington apples and $30 million for pears, cherries and apricots.
An agreement was reached renewing the pilot program and ending the tariffs in 2011.
Mexico is Washington’s top apple export market and every market is vital with this fall’s big crop.
“This is a very sensitive issue. The government conducted over 5,000 truck and driver inspections during the pilot and hopefully it gained what it was looking for and a regulatory decision can be made and we can move forward,” said Mark Powers, vice president of NW Horticultural Council.