WASHINGTON – Mexican trucks subject to strict new safety measures will begin to move on U.S. highways, and Mexico will begin to lift tariffs on U.S. goods entering that country under an agreement signed Wednesday in Mexico City.
The signing ends a two-year stalemate that began in March 2009, when a previous program allowing Mexican trucks on U.S. roads ended, and Mexico imposed the tariffs in response.
Under the deal, Mexico will cut tariffs by half on U.S. goods and produce within 10 days and will eliminate the tariffs entirely within five days of the first Mexican carrier winning U.S. operating authority.
To win that authority, Mexican truckers will have to live up to U.S. safety and emissions standards. Their trucks will be electronically monitored, the drivers’ drug samples will be tested in U.S. labs and drivers will have to show that they speak English and understand American road signs.
Department of Transportation (DOT) officials could not say Wednesday how soon companies might be certified, only that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would begin taking applications from Mexican carriers.
Until now, Mexican trucks were only allowed in a zone near the border. The agreement will allow them all over the United States.
It was hailed by business groups, who said the removal of tariffs will open the door to greater trade envisioned in 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was supposed to give Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways.
But the Teamsters union savaged the deal, saying it would put unsafe Mexican trucks on U.S. highways and send good-paying U.S. trucking jobs to lower-priced Mexico.
“Opening the border to dangerous trucks at a time of high unemployment and rampant drug violence is a shameful abandonment of the DOT’s duty to protect American citizens from harm and to spend American tax dollars responsibly,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Business groups saw the agreement differently, saying it will help stimulate the economy by lifting tariffs that the U.S. government said were as high as 25 percent on $2 billion worth of American produce and manufactured goods shipped to Mexico.
“Unfortunately it has been two years, but we are happy” with the agreement, said Ken Barbic, a spokesman for Western Growers. The agricultural trade association represents businesses in California and Arizona.
Barbic’s group said $900 million in U.S. farm products have been hit by tariffs since the Mexican government began enforcing them in 2009. He said he hopes the deal holds.
“There will also be folks in Congress who may not want this to go through,” Barbic said.
The Mexican government said it believes this agreement will fulfill the United States’ commitment to NAFTA and it expects that the U.S. will remain committed to that agreement from this point forward.
“Let me say that we do expect this to be the final track toward the full U.S. compliance with NAFTA regulations,” said Ricardo Alday, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington. “We do expect the U.S. to abide by the rules.”
Alday expressed hope that the agreement would be a successful bridge between the two nations, but said there will be more work in the future to preserve real trade.
“It was about time that this moved forward,” he said. “It is not yet a permanent solution.”