FOX AND BUSH DISCUSS TRADE, TRUCKING
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — President Bush’s Friday meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox may have been more symbolic than substantive, but for those concerned with trucking textiles and apparel across the U.S.-Mexican border, the parley seemed to offer good news.
Bush’s visit to Mexico — the President’s first foreign trip since taking office last month — underscores his oft-repeated commitment to expanding trade with Latin America.
That commitment includes Bush’s decision to accept a Feb. 6 NAFTA panel conclusion that the U.S. is violating the pact by not permitting Mexican trucks to make deliveries in the U.S.
While it’s not clear when it will happen, the opening of the border to Mexican trucks is “going to increase efficiencies moving north and south across the border,” said Ed Rastatter, director of policy with the National Industrial Transportation League, which counts Sara Lee, Kmart and J.C. Penney Co. among its members.
However, any changes may take a while, because the U.S. needs to create a system by which Mexican trucks can be inspected for safety en masse, which Bush said he wants to put in place prior to the border opening.
A spokeswoman with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said an implementation date for the new trucking rules hasn’t been set.
However, the Mexican government does have some leverage to spur the U.S. along. If the U.S. does not lift its trucking restrictions within 30 days of the report’s issuance, the Mexicans will be allowed to engage in some kind of financial retaliation.
After the Bush administration issues its guidelines for the inspection of Mexican trucks, trucking companies will then have to put in place plans for their new long-haul business opportunities.
“There’s a lot of logistics that need to be done. U.S. trucking companies are going to have to find agents in Mexico, find backhauls and provide for [truck] maintenance on the road. That all could take months,” Rastatter said. “Backhaul” is a trucking industry term for a return-trip shipment, a necessity for making long-distance deliveries economical.
The NAFTA agreement had called for Mexican trucks to be allowed on the roads of the U.S. several years ago. It originally called for the U.S. to open its border states to Mexican trucks by 1997, and to open roads nationwide by 2000.
Former President Clinton blocked the truck provision from being implemented out of concern that Mexican trucks in general aren’t safe, a claim the Mexican government disputed. Clinton’s decision was supported by organized labor and consumer groups. The Mexican government, in retaliation for Clinton’s decision, has blocked the entry of U.S. trucks into Mexico.
Two-way trade has persisted nonetheless, because of pickup and drop-off sites created for tractor trailers within 10 miles of the border.
The reviewing panel cited the fact that some 8,200 Mexican trucks have been certified as safe to cross into the U.S. to drop off trailers in this zone as one piece of evidence the all-out U.S. ban was unfair.
Mexico is the largest supplier of imported apparel to the U.S., much of which is made from U.S. textiles. The shipment of textiles south, and apparel north, is handled almost exclusively by trucks.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 1999, $2.26 billion worth of apparel entered into the U.S. by truck from Mexico, over the Texas and California borders.
Solving the trucking dispute is just one piece of a much larger puzzle of transportation needs at the U.S.-Mexico border. Garry Kyle, a member of the Border Trade Alliance and chairman of its transportation committee, said congestion at the border still plagues ground shipments, particularly in the Texas crossings at Laredo and El Paso, the two largest crossings in the state.
A driver can wait from three hours to one day to clear safety and Customs inspections on both the U.S. and Mexican sides, Kyle said.