MEXICO CITY (AP) _ U.S. safety inspectors will be allowed to examine Mexican trucks before they enter the United States under a program announced Thursday that could end a seven-year dispute.
Speaking at a trucking company in Monterrey, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters and her Mexican counterpart, Luis Tellez, said the deal would remove the last barrier to the long-delayed opening of U.S. highways to Mexican truckers.
``This is a historic agreement to ensure the safety of these vehicles ... and their drivers as well,'' Peters said.
U.S. inspectors will be able to examine trucks and check the licenses, insurance and driving records of the Mexican drivers.
Peters refused to say exactly when Mexican trucks would be allowed throughout the U.S. but predicted it would be ``soon.''
Meanwhile, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, announced a March 8 hearing to determine whether the arrangement meets safety requirements.
``The Bush Administration and Mexican authorities now maintain that they have fulfilled every one of these safety requirements. That remains to be seen,'' Murray said in a statement.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico and the U.S. were supposed to have allowed full access for each other's trucks by 2000.
U.S. trucking companies, unions and environmental groups have long opposed the move, however, arguing that Mexico's trucking industry uses older, poorly maintained rigs.
Mexico has claimed that Washington is reneging on its obligations under NAFTA, and in February 2001 an international panel agreed.
That same year President Bush said he would allow the trucks and a June 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision seemed to remove the last legal barrier.