9th Circuit rejects challenge to Mexican truck permits

A truck is greeted by a Mexican security guard as it leaves Mesa de Otay, Mexico, and crosses into the Cargo Pre-Inspection point at the Otay Mesa, Calif., port of entry, June 23, 2016. U.S. trucker groups have failed to convince a federal appeals court that Mexican trucks have been allowed into the U.S. in violation of administrative law.

U.S. trucker groups have failed to convince a federal appeals court that Mexican trucks have been allowed into the U.S. in violation of administrative law.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it lacks the power to overturn the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s permits for Mexico-based long-haul trucking companies to operate within the U.S.

In the past, disputes over Mexican trucks have blown back adversely on U.S. farmers when their goods were subject to steep retaliatory tariffs in Mexico.

Growers reported millions of dollars in lost sales of potatoes, Christmas trees, tree fruits and other crops before the tariffs were lifted in 2011, when Mexican trucks were most recently allowed into the U.S.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association claimed the FMCSA’s permits were based on a faulty study on the safety of Mexican trucking companies.

The study, which was a prerequisite for issuing such permits, was faulted in an internal government audit for basing its conclusions on an insufficient number of Mexican trucking firms.

However, the 9th Circuit has ruled that Congress didn’t impose “any requirements of sample size or statistical validity” on the study’s results, effectively meaning federal courts have no yardstick to gauge FMCSA’s decision.

The U.S. trucker groups had argued that FMCSA’s permits for Mexican firms were based on “arbitrary and capricious” reasoning, contrary to the Administrative Procedure Act.

“However, arbitrary and capricious review does not apply in the absence of a statutory benchmark against which to measure an agency’s exercise of discretion,” the 9th Circuit said.

The U.S. and Mexico have sparred over trucking issues for 35 years, going back to a 1982 law that blocked entry to trucks from Mexico because that country wasn’t providing access to U.S. trucks.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was supposed to resolve the dispute, but the U.S. imposed conditions limiting where Mexican trucks can travel.

Those restrictions were lifted by the Bush administration in 2007 but were soon re-imposed when the Obama administration came into office.

As a result, Mexico slapped tariffs of up to 25 percent on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. goods — including roughly 100 farm goods — until the U.S. again agreed to accept Mexican trucks in 2011, following the completion of a pilot program safety study.

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