Mexico Sends First Long-Haul Trucks To US Under Pilot Program

Sunday, September 9th 2007, 7:12 pm
By: News On 6

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Two Mexican tractor-trailers have delivered payloads in New York and South Carolina, becoming the first trucks to operate deep in the United States under a long-delayed, NAFTA-mandated program criticized on both sides of the border.

The trucks, operated by Transportes Olympic, a company based outside the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, crossed into the United States carrying steel construction materials and will haul similar products from Arkansas and Alabama back across the border, Mexican Transportation Secretary Luis Tellez said Sunday.

Since 1982, Mexican trucks have been allowed to operate in the United States only within a 25-mile zone along the border, where they transfer loads to U.S. vehicles for transport elsewhere in the country.

Unrestricted access was supposed to begin in 1995, but the Clinton administration refused to open the border to Mexican trucks out of concern that they might be unsafe. A NAFTA arbitration panel overruled the U.S. in 2001, but lawsuits and lengthy negotiations with the Mexican government led to even more delays.

On Thursday, the U.S. Transportation Department granted permission to Transportes Olympic to haul cargo anywhere in the United States as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In turn, Mexico granted authority to Stagecoach Cartage & Distribution Inc. of El Paso, Texas, to travel throughout Mexico.

``On Friday, Sept. 7, the first two Mexican cargo trucks crossed the border with the United States,'' Tellez told a news conference.

The U.S. plans to give as many as 25 Mexican firms permission to haul cargo north of the border by the end of the month, and will add another 25 per month until reaching 100 _ for a total of 1,000 trucks _ by year's end under a one-year pilot program. The Mexican government also has committed to allow trucks from as many as 100 U.S. firms to travel anywhere in Mexico.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, environmentalist group the Sierra Club and watchdog organization Public Citizen sued to stop it, saying Mexican trucks do not meet U.S. safety and environmental standards and that there would not be enough oversight of drivers crossing the border. A federal appeals court ruled last week that the Bush administration could move ahead with the program.

Dozens of truckers protested at border crossings in Texas and California on Thursday, some carrying signs reading ``NAFTA Kills'' and ``Unsafe Mexican Trucks.''

In Mexico, representatives of the national trucking association have argued that most Mexican companies are not ready for cross-border long-haul trips because the government has failed to help them modernize and take other necessary steps to qualify for the program.

U.S. and Mexican officials say the program is a necessary part of NAFTA and that trucks enrolled in the program would meet U.S. regulations.

``This project will allow us to demonstrate in practice that door-to-door cargo shipments without intermediaries at the border will lower costs ... and increase our country's competitiveness,'' Tellez said.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza estimated that letting trucks travel freely throughout both countries would save more than $400 million annually in transportation costs.