Two lobbying groups are praising the Senate for favoring a transportation spending bill that will place strict safety standards on Mexican-owned trucks before they can gain wider access to U.S. roads as required by NAFTA conventions.
Teamsters general president James P. Hoffa said the “Murray-Shelby” amendment to the transportation appropriations bill strengthens the safety provisions required of trucks entering the U.S. from Mexico and limits access to U.S. highways by unsafe and un-inspected trucks.
“We cannot close our eyes, let unsafe Mexican trucks across our border and hope everything turns out alright,” Hoffa said. “Mexico must meet its end of the NAFTA bargain and establish a real safety regime.”
The Murray-Shelby amendment, drawn up by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), ensures that funds are barred for the DOT to process Mexican carrier applications until border crossings have around-the-clock coverage. The amendment, which passed 70-30, also calls for safety audits to be performed before any conditional operating authority is granted to Mexican carriers, equipment to be placed at the border to weigh all commercial vehicles entering the U.S. and for all Mexican truck drivers comply with hours-of-service regulations.
If it becomes law, the bill will require Mexican truckers to submit to a barrage of safety inspections and insurance requirements before their trucks can travel beyond the 20-mile-wide commercial zone currently in place along the border.
“We are grateful that a majority of Senators understand that the safety of our highways is more important to the American public than whatever trade benefits our country may gain from a premature opening of the border to Mexican trucks,” said Jim Johnston, president of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA).
Johnston said truck safety rules in Mexico are fewer and weaker than those in the U.S. He also noted that NAFTA requires Mexican trucks that come into the U.S. to comply with all U.S. safety regulations.
“We have serious doubts as to their ability to comply with our tougher rules,” Johnston said, adding that studies conducted by the DOT’s Inspector General back up his statement.
President George W. Bush is committed to opening the border fully to Mexican carriers starting on January 1 to abide by the "open-border" obligations of NAFTA, which the U.S. agreed to eight years ago.
Despite President Bush’s wish, both Hoffa and Johnston said the U.S. will not be ready to give Mexican trucks full highway access.
Hoffa testified before the Senate Commerce Committee on July 19 in support of the Murray-Shelby amendment and to voice concerns about the Bush Administration's plans to open the border by January 1.
“Federal and state truck enforcement officials are completely unprepared to oversee Mexican truck and driver compliance with U.S. safety rules,” Johnston said. “To allow Mexican trucks into our country now would create a safety hazard on our highways.”
Hoffa and Johnston both said he Senate’s focus in its latest action has only been on safety. They say the opening of the border to Mexican trucks implicates many more issues that have a profound affect on the U.S., including immigration rules, customs regulations, environmental issues and state and federal tax revenue.