The Senate has joined the House in voting effectively to ban Mexican trucks from U.S. highways.
The lawmakers did it in backdoor fashion by banning the U.S. Department of Transportation from spending any money to administer the program and to perform the necessary inspections to allow the trucks in.
This is just the latest runaround the United States has given Mexico to avoid our having to live up to the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which began in 1994. Under that treaty, Mexican trucks were to have full access to U.S. highways by 2000, the same access that Canada has long enjoyed.
In 2002, President Bush directly ordered DOT to begin allowing the trucks in. To date, exactly one has and that was last week on a one-time trial basis. Opponents, led by the Teamsters union, have thrown one roadblock after another in the path of the trucks, challenging their entry on safety, environmental and economic considerations. Mainly, the union fears the competition.
No amount of U.S. government pledges of stiff licensing requirements for the drivers and regular inspections of the trucks satisfies the opponents. They don’t want Mexican trucks in the country, period. The congressional votes reflected a combination of growing Democratic protectionism and political catering to organized labor laced with a dose of anti-Mexican animus stemming from the immigration battles.
The ban is part of a $106 billion transportation and housing bill that Bush has vowed to veto on the only slightly overstated grounds of an “irresponsible and excessive level of spending.” The veto is unlikely to give cooler and wiser heads a second chance to prevail on the truck provision. It is a rare president willing to stand between Congress and a transportation spending bill, and this one passed last week by the comfortably veto-proof margin of 88 to 7.
This ban does no credit to the United States. We’ve reneged on an agreement we freely entered into. We’ve called into question our trustworthiness as a negotiating partner on other trade agreements. And it gives ammunition to our growing number of critics in the World Trade Organization and the Doha round of trade talks who say we’re hypocrites. On this particular issue they have a point.