OTTAWA, Ont. - With all the brouhaha surrounding the recent US Department of Transportation launch of a "demonstration program" to finally apply the North American Free Trade Act to US/Mexico cross-bo...
OTTAWA, Ont. – With all the brouhaha surrounding the recent US Department of Transportation launch of a “demonstration program” to finally apply the North American Free Trade Act to US/Mexico cross-border trucking, Canada’s ongoing attempts to get Mexico to recognize its rights under the Act are largely being ignored.
Except, of course, by Canadian carriers, some of whom have been waiting to have their applications to run into Mexico processed since NAFTA was signed in 1993.
“The consensus at CTA is that once the Mexican border opens to US carriers it should definitely open to us,” Ron Lennox, vice-president trade and security for the Canadian Trucking Alliance said following the association’s recent annual board meeting. “We’re not interested in taking part in the project, but we do think Canadian carriers should be allowed to enter into Mexico as called for in NAFTA.”
According to Lennox, a number of Canadian carriers made applications for authority to operate in Mexico after NAFTA was signed, but have since had no word from Mexican authorities.
The US DoT/Mexican truck demonstration program gives illegal (under NAFTA) precedence to the US, but even US carrier access to Mexico may be put on the backburner now that the US Senate has waded into the fray, heeding protests against the program from groups as widely diverse in their objectives as the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Teamsters and CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways).
Originally announced by the US DoT in late February, as a one-year program to allow 100 Mexican carriers to operate in the US following inspection and certification by US inspectors, followed by reciprocal access for US carriers, the program has since been assailed by a wave of criticism by these groups, claiming DoT is making roads dangerous for the US public.
“It is simply abhorrent to think that our government would allow Mexican trucks full access to US highways before all safety, economic and homeland security concerns are completely and appropriately addressed,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice-president.
Since then, US politicians have introduced two bills aimed at putting a stick in the spokes of the wheels of the program, namely the NAFTA Trucking Safety Act of 2007, introduced by US Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, on March 29 and the Safe American Roads Act of 2007, introduced by Rep. Nancy Boyda, a Democrat from Kansas, on March 30.
The bills were hailed as victories by the OOIDA.
“This legislation will go a long way to assure foreign trucks operating on US soil do not represent a threat to highway safety or to our homeland security. It will also ensure our nation will be in a position to enforce its laws on foreign trucks while they are here,” said OOIDA’s Spencer. But the bills have yet to be passed and, attached as they are to a Democrat-led funding bill for the war in Iraq which makes funding of troops conditional on a withdrawal schedule, will most likely be met with Presidential veto, say Washington insiders.
(Reactionary bills like these are often piggybacked on other, seemingly unrelated legislation in order to expedite them. It’s all part of the deal-making process of US politics.)
But while US politicians slam it out on the Senate floor, the US DoT is keeping its cool, secure in the knowledge that trucking provisions in NAFTA will have to be respected eventually, like it or not.
“The US Department of Transportation is committed to moving forward with this program and will continue to work with members of the US Congress to address their concerns,” said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spokesman Duane DeBryne, adding safety audits are already being conducted on Mexican carriers who’ve applied for the program. “The cross-border trucking demonstration program will bring real benefits and real dollars to the American economy while maintaining all US safety and security standards.”
Indeed, DoT has repeatedly provided assurances that road safety is a priority for the program, insisting no Mexican carrier will cross into US territory without having undergone at least the same amount of scrutiny that US carriers do.
Mexican carriers accepted for the program must pass a safety audit by US inspectors, including a complete review of driver records, insurance policies, drug and alcohol testing programs and vehicle inspection records, all of which are conducted in Mexico, prior to the carrier being allowed into the US.
Still, opponents do point out safety records kept by the Mexican authority may not provide enough consistency over time to provide US inspectors with an adequate view of a Mexican carrier’s safety practices.
All of which appears not to be a concern for Canadian transportation officials, who say Mexican carriers approved to run in the US will most likely be allowed to cross into Canada.
“Canadian and US laws are similar when it comes to safety and motor carriers,” said Transport Canada spokeswoman Fiona MacLeod. “So Mexican trucks operating in Canada would be subject to the same safety audits and on-road safety inspections conducted under Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance out-of-service criteria.”
In other words, Mexican trucks that do pass inspection have the green light to operate in Canada.
Does that mean Canadian carriers might choose to hire Mexican carriers running into Canada to haul loads down to the border of Mexico, if not actually across it?
It’s possible, say industry insiders.
Some Canadian carriers currently do haul loads down to the Mexican border, dropping them on the Texas side, before they’re picked up by the Mexican drayage companies currently employed by Mexican Customs brokers, to haul them through the 20 mile commercial zone to other carriers on the Mexican side, an incredibly lengthy and expensive process which largely benefits Mexican Customs brokers who control the borders thanks to the Mexican government.
But having direct access to Mexican roads might not be all it’s cracked up to be, said one trucking exec.
“Some carriers may not want to run into Mexico. They may not see it as being in their best interest,” said the executive, citing security issues, such as missing trailers and lost loads. “They do things differently down there and it could end up costing a lot of money. It all depends on the carrier.”