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Mexico agreement may need tuning

Published on July 15, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on August 12, 2011 8:38AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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After more than two years, a deal has been struck that will end punitive tariffs that have cost farmers in the West millions of dollars in lost sales to Mexico.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican trucks carrying cargo across the border were to be given access to U.S. highways by 2000. U.S. trucking companies and the Teamsters union balked, and nothing much happened to fulfill that provision for several years.

Under pressure from the Mexican government, the Bush administration began a pilot program in 2007 that would facilitate access to a limited number of Mexican trucks and drivers that met U.S. standards. Congress defunded that program in 2009, and the Mexican government slapped tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of American goods, including a host of farm products.

The tariffs affected pork, dairy, grains, potatoes, Christmas trees, apples and other fruits. Farmers in the West saw sales of their products fall. The USDA said the tariffs cut exports to Mexico by 27 percent.

The Obama administration last week delivered on a 2-year-old promise to act, announcing that it had reached a pact that would lead Mexico to suspend 50 percent of the retaliatory tariffs within 10 days and drop the remainder within five days of the trucks starting to roll.

Under the deal, Mexican trucks must meet U.S. safety standards and be equipped with electronic monitors recording their hours of service and their routes. Drivers must pass drug screening, be able to understand English and read and understand U.S. road signs. Mexican carriers will only be authorized to carry cargo from Mexico to the cargo's destination within the U.S.

The deal would seem to meet the concerns of those who argued that the treaty would allow unsafe Mexican trucks to wreak havoc on U.S. highways. We salute the Obama administration for its work.

Ag groups are hailing the agreement, but trucking companies, unions and independent drivers have promised to fight its implementation through litigation and legislation.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, introduced legislation limiting the use of Highway Trust Fund dollars to pay for electronic on-board recorders for Mexican trucks.

His response isn't surprising, since he has opposed free trade agreements that have benefited farmers across the Northwest. And he has long been a shill for the trucking lobby and the unions, having received thousands of dollars from their campaign contributions.

We suspect his legislation won't go anywhere. While we think farmers would be better served if DeFazio dropped his effort, we have to admit that he brings up a valid point. Should the fuel taxes paid by U.S. truckers be used to outfit Mexican competitors?

Those in the know expect a relatively small number of Mexican trucks to qualify under the program. Ag groups and other industries hit by the tariffs should consider funding the effort themselves. It would save time, would cost far less than the tariffs, and would be a legitimate investment in their own interests.


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