FOX says Mexico won't allow U.S. trucks across border until Mexican trucks allowed in U.S.

Friday, August 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ President Vicente Fox said Thursday he would bar American trucks until Mexican truckers are allowed on U.S. highways, following a U.S. Senate vote to impose tough restrictions on the entry of big rigs from Mexico.

At a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Fox spoke more forcefully on the subject than he has before.

``If no agreement is reached, there won't be any Mexican trucks up there, because they don't want them, but there won't be any American trucks down here, either,'' Fox said.

``There currently aren't any American trucks in Mexico, and there won't be any unless we reach a mutual, equitable and well though-out agreement on the issue,'' Fox said.

Mexico has not allowed U.S. trucks to enter Mexican territory since February, when a NAFTA arbitration panel ruled that the United States was violating the treaty, which was supposed to open the two countries up to unrestricted truck traffic.

U.S. officials have delayed that opening based on safety concerns about Mexico's old, ill-maintained trucks, which often carry overweight loads or are driven by untrained drivers.

President Bush wants to allow Mexican trucks, which are currently restricted to a commercial zone that runs up to 20 miles north of the border, to begin delivering international shipments throughout the United States beginning Jan. 1.

But under the bill approved by the visit Wednesday, they could not do so until Mexican trucking companies are audited by visiting U.S. officials; border stations get more inspectors and scales; and insurance, driving and other standards are met.

Mexico's Economy Secretary, Ernesto Derbez, recommended calm following the Senate vote, and said the Bush administration assured him it had enough votes to sustain a veto of the Senate bill.

``We are confident in President Bush's commitment,'' Derbez said, while noting ``we will not accept anything that goes back on the agreement,'' referring to rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement that say Mexican trucks should have been allowed in starting in 1998.

Supporters say the Senate requirements _ stricter than those required for truckers from the United States or Canada, the other NAFTA member _ are justified because Mexican vehicles are likelier to flunk inspections.

Opponents said some provisions, such as forbidding the shifting of U.S. inspectors to the Mexican border until new ones are trained, were aimed at delaying entry of the trucks for years.