WASHINGTON — Mexico is retaliating for last week’s actions by U.S. Congress that cut off funding for pilot program that allowed a select number of Mexican carriers access to U.S. highways.
Mexico says it will increase tariffs on about 90 U.S. products because the action violates the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was supposed to have opened cross-border trucking in 1995.
U.S. exports ranging from fruits and vegetables to toilet paper and deodorant will be subject to Mexican tariffs of 10 to 20 percent, according to media reports.
The Mexican Economy Department says it will affect about $2.4 billion in trade.
The omnibus spending bill signed by President Obama last week effectively cancels the 18-month old pilot. However, immediately after, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration wants to work with Congress to come up with a new plan that would restore that program, under revised terms.
The program had been viewed by the Bush administration as a way to prove the effectiveness of a safety management system devised by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), as a prelude to fully opening the border.
Under NAFTA, the crossing was supposed to have been opened to border-state traffic in 1995 and to long-distance traffic in 2000. The opening was stalled until 2007, in part by difficult negotiations with Mexico, but mainly by the legislative and legal tactics of U.S. labor, owner-operator and citizen advocacy groups who fear loss of U.S. jobs to Mexican drivers and argue that Mexican trucks will not be safe.
Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa called Mexico’s actions an absurd overreaction. "The right response from Mexico would be to make sure its drivers and trucks are safe enough to use our highways without endangering our drivers," Hoffa said. "The border must stay closed until Mexico holds up its end of the bargain."
Kevin Gallagher, an economist and international relations professor at Boston University, says countries around the world are starting to perceive the U.S. as hypocritical on protectionism. "I think countries are getting a little fed up with that double standard," he told AP.
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