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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. has inked a deal calling for the full opening of its border with Mexican trucks by 2002, and President George Bush is ready to dole out US$144 million to get ready.

The two countries quietly penned the agreement, governing the hauling of international freight on Mar. 22.

Mexican companies will be required to comply with U.S. safety and operating standards for commercial trucking, and the U.S. budget, announced yesterday, includes $88 million for additional inspectors.

Another $56 million has been set aside for beefing up inspection facilities in the border regions.

The committing of federal cash underlines a pledge made by Bush’s last winter to have the U.S. fully comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). A panel had slammed the U.S. for ignoring the deadlines for the free movement of Mexican rigs outlined in the agreement.

Mexican trucks can only travel up to 20 miles north of the border under current rules. Initially NAFTA was to have opened highways in all U.S. border states — Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. This was to have expanded throughout the U.S. by 2000.

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