For 14 years, the United States and Mexico have been at odds over trucks.
Now the U.S. House has voted to ban Mexican trucks from American highways. And while we have opposed such moves in the past, this time the prohibition is based on legitimate concerns.
Under terms of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, trucks from Mexico and the United States were supposed to have full access to both countries by 2000. But it didn’t happen until last year – and then only as a one-year pilot program.
Some of the delay was legitimate, as safety and environmental problems were addressed. But labor unions also persuaded Congress to impose unwarranted delays out of concerns that the jobs of American truck drivers would be threatened by Mexican competition.
Last week, however, new concerns were raised and the House voted 395-18 not to renew the pilot program that gives some Mexican trucks access to U.S. highways. President Bush has threatened a veto, but the House has enough votes to override it.
Among those voting to halt the program was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a southern Arizona Democrat, who cited numerous safety problems that justify a further delay.
In a 2005 report, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General found that Mexico has problems testing truck drivers for drug and alcohol use.
Mexico also lacks adequate standards on how long drivers can be behind the wheel. And there also are concerns about the emissions and the safety standards of Mexican trucks.
We believe the terms of NAFTA should be implemented – including the long-delayed trucking program.
Before the pilot program, Mexican trucks entered the United States 5 million times per year. But they had to stop within 25 miles of the border and transfer their goods to U.S. trucks, which cost American consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Conversely, U.S. companies and Mexican consumers would benefit from U.S. trucks winning access to Mexican roads.
But that access cannot come at any cost.
“I fully appreciate the importance of a robust trade relationship with Mexico,” Giffords said. “But commerce cannot trump public safety. All trucks on our roads must comply with U.S. safety standards. Unfortunately, the pilot program could not guarantee that Mexican trucks are able to do that.”
Mexican trucks should be allowed in the United States – as long as they meet the same driver, safety and environmental regulations imposed on American trucks. Until that happens, Congress is right to keep them out.