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US inspectors to examine trucks on Mexican soil

Associated Press | Feb. 22, 2007

US inspectors to examine trucks on Mexican soil

By MARK STEVENSON Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY - U.S. safety inspectors will be allowed to inspect trucks on Mexican soil before they enter the United States under a program announced on Thursday that officials said will remove the last barrier to the long-delayed opening of U.S. highways to Mexican truckers.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters and her Mexican counterpart, Luis Tellez, announced the plan during a visit to a trucking firm in the northern city of Monterrey.

"This is a historic agreement to ensure the safety of these vehicles ... and their drivers as well," Peters said, adding "this is the first time U.S. inspectors have come into Mexico to perform these onsite safety audits."

The plan will allow U.S. transportation inspectors to check not only the safety and condition of the Mexican rigs, but also check the licenses, insurance and driving records of the Mexican drivers.

Peters refused to say exactly when Mexican trucks will be allowed to carry freight throughout the United States - they are currently limited to a narrow strip along the border - but predicted that it would happen "soon."

For such a trade opening with such a long history of delays, however, that prediction might prove optimistic.

"The Bush Administration and Mexican authorities now maintain that they have fulfilled every one of these safety requirements. That remains to be seen," U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) said in a press statement.

Murray, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, said she will hold a hearing on March 8 "to investigate whether the administration has fulfilled both the spirit and the letter of the law."

"International trade is a critical engine of our nations economy," Murray said, "but safety must not be the victim when it comes to expanding trade with our partners."

U.S. trucking companies, unions and environmental groups have long opposed the opening, arguing that Mexico’s loosely regulated trucking industry uses rigs that are older and poorly maintained, the result of that country’s less stringent environmental and safety standards. They argue the opening would cost Americans thousands of jobs, pollute the air, damage highways and threaten safety.

Mexican trucking firms - especially the more modern, long-haul companies - argue they meet all standards.

Peterson said the U.S. inspectors will evaluate truck maintenance and driver testing for compliance with U.S. requirements.

"The inspection teams also will check that drivers have a valid commercial driver’s license, have a current medical certificate, and can comply with U.S. hours-of-service rules," her office said in a press statement. "Trucks lacking required documentation will be subject to a "hood to tail-lamps," inspection by the teams."

Thursday’s agreement could mark and end to a seven-year-old trade disagreement; under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, Mexico and the United States were supposed to have allowed full access for each other’s trucks by 2000.

Mexico has claimed the United States is reneging on its obligations under NAFTA, and in February 2001 an international arbitration panel agreed. President George W. Bush said in 2001 said he would allow the trucks in, and a June 2004 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to remove the last legal barrier.

Despite that, procedural issues like the topic of inspections had delayed the opening.

 source: Houston Chronicle