Friday, December 28, 2007
Broken promise for Mexican truckers bodes ill for free trade
Just before breaking for the holidays Congress effectively reneged on the North American Free Trade Agreement’s promise to give Mexican truckers full access to U.S. roads. A provision in the omnibus spending bill approved Dec. 19 eliminates funding for the one-year demonstration program that began in September.
The program, which allowed 100 Mexican trucking companies to travel throughout the United States, was a first step toward fulfilling this long-delayed treaty obligation. Pulling the plug on this pilot program signals the Mexican government that Congress has no intention of honoring that obligation.
The action almost certainly will prompt retaliation — most likely a move to deny U.S. truckers access to Mexican roads. That would carry some economic consequences, particularly for Texas, where cross-border commerce is relatively heavy. But more concerning is what this failure to live up to NAFTA says about the United States as a trustworthy trading partner. It says, quite simply, that the United States cannot be trusted to hold up its end of trade agreements.
Those who led the effort to keep Mexican long-haul trucks off U.S. roads — Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., prominent among them — would say that safety, not trust, is the issue. But this safety concern arose only after the politically powerful Teamsters Union weighed in as the date for giving Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways drew near. It’s clearly bogus. Mexican trucks have long been allowed to operate up to 20 miles north of the border. A comprehensive review of thousands of Texas Department of Public Safety inspection reports by a University of Texas researcher showed that Mexican trucks entering the United States had no more safety violations than U.S. trucks.
The fact is, Mexican trucks must meet the same safety standards imposed on U.S. trucks. The testing may be more rigorous for Mexican truckers; every Mexican truck is inspected every time it crosses the border.
No, safety isn’t what motivated Congress to renege on this treaty obligation. It was the Teamsters demand for protection against foreign competition. It’s disappointing that Murray would subscribe to this bit of protectionism. Washington, after all, is among the most trade-dependent states in the nation. International trade supports one in five jobs in the state. The senator should be most concerned about those jobs, and how what this broken promise might mean to the government’s ability to negotiate new trade deals.