f e a t u r e
Mexico to Even Score after U.S. Approval of Tough Trucking
Access Law
Trade Tussle Continues
by Jonathan Treat | February 8, 2002
Mexico vows to submit U.S. trucks entering the country to tougher rules
next month, following President George W. Bush’s approval Dec. 18 of a
transportation spending act that Mexican truckers claim unduly limits
their access to highways in the United States.
According to the legislation, Mexican trucks that undergo rigorous and
regular safety inspections by U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
officials should be allowed access to U.S. highways.
That removes a rule restricting the trucks to a 20-mile zone in the United
States along the border, a sticking point with Mexico, which has protested
that the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) authorized Mexican
trucks to travel freely within the United States as of Jan. 1, 2000.
But 11 Mexican trucking companies filed a $44-billion class-action lawsuit
against the U.S. government on the very same day Bush signed the legislation.
Their complaint: The strict new U.S. safety inspections, coming on top
of pre-existing U.S. competition and stiff border security, represent
unfair trade barriers.
Even before enactment of the new legislation, Mexican trucking companies
on the border were losing as much as $100,000 a day due to delays caused
by tightened security since Sept. 11 terror attacks, noted Manuel Sotelo,
president of the Ciudad Juárez Trucking Association.
Mexican President Vicente Fox’s administration acknowledged the industry’s
arguments, and the Economy Ministry has agreed to create regulations for
U.S. trucks and drivers to mirror those mandated for the entry of Mexican
trucks into the United States.
Mexico’s new regulations will be in place no later than March 2002, according
to Economy Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez.
“We are going to seek reciprocity,” Derbez said. “If the
desire is to create inequity, then there will be inequity for both countries.”
Details of U.S. Regulations
The new U.S. access requirements for Mexican trucks were the result of
a November compromise over the contentious issue by White House and congressional
negotiators that removed a major obstacle to passage of fiscal 2002 transportation
appropriations legislation, retroactive to Oct. 1 of last year.
The compromise culminated months of often-bitter debate in the House
and Senate over allowing Mexican truckers into the U.S. interior.
On one hand, U.S. safety groups and unions contended that Mexican trucks
are largely unregulated and pose a risk to drivers, a perspective supported
by the previous administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton.
On the other hand, Bush, along with a number of key Republicans, including
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), sided with Mexico,
arguing that restricting Mexican truckers access to U.S. highways violated
terms of NAFTA.
Bush threatened to veto the version of the transportation bill the Senate
approved 97-2, before it was softened in an agreement that achieved House
ratification 371-11 during the last week of November.
The $60-billion appropriations act aimed to smooth out the potholes in
the road toward more harmonious U.S.-Mexico relations with concessions
to interest groups on both sides of the border.
To Mexican truckers’ benefit, the transportation spending measure allocates
$140 million for improving operations and facilities providing greater
access. The legislation calls for DOT inspectors to target only carriers
they have reason to suspect of being in violation of safety laws, rather
than examine every Mexican vehicle crossing the border. Instead of mandatory
checks of every Mexican drivers license, inspections are to be random,
in an attempt to prevent threatened dramatic back-ups at border crossings
and potential mountains of certification paperwork.
Meanwhile, the legislation has won the support of the International Brotherhood
of Teamsters, which represents at least 120,000 U.S. truck drivers, apparently
because of the extremely strict safety regulations it imposes on Mexican
trucks and their drivers.
According to the new law, all Mexican trucks must undergo physical inspections
before being granted access to U.S. highways; they must submit to inspections
every 90 days after that.
Mexican trucks are restricted to crossings that have DOT inspectors on
duty. But the DOT is initiating these inspections only at problem crossing
areas, rather than at every border crossing. More specifically, the department
now is establishing weigh stations for Mexican trucks at the five busiest
border crossings, with orders to expand inspections to the 10 busiest
within one year.
At the other crossings, the law calls for electronic verification of
licenses of every other Mexican truck carrying high-risk cargo and of
50% of all licenses.
It requires Mexican trucking companies to establish drug- and alcohol-testing
programs, as well as to verify that drivers have clean driving records
and current insurance policies.
Additionally, Mexican trucking firms will not be allowed into the country
until the U.S. Inspector General’s office has established that the U.S.
government is fully capable of enforcing the new safety standards for
Mexican trucks. And the secretary of Transportation must certify that
opening the border does not present an unacceptable safety risk to U.S.
Jonathan Treat is a frequent contributor to the IRC’s Americas Program.

“NAFTA and
Crossborder Transportation” | borderlines, vol. 8 no. 5, iss. 67,
June 2000
“Still Talking
Trash about Mexican Trucks” | borderlines UPDATER, February 12, 2001
Public Citizen
“North American
Free Trade Agreement: Coordinated Operational Plan Needed to Ensure Mexican
Trucks’ Compliance With U.S. Standards” | U.S. General Accounting
“In Rebuttal,
Mexicans Dispute Claim Their Trucks Are Unsafe August 2, 2001: | New York
Times, August 2, 2001

Judith Espinosa
| Border Region Information on Transportation and the Environment (BRITE)
Oscar Daniel Moreno
Martínez | Cámara Nacional del Autotransporte de Carga,
Comisión de Asuntos Internacionales, Puertos y Transporte Intermodal
Manuel Sotelo |
Asociación de Transportistas de Ciudad Juárez
(011-6) 27-02-39

Published by
the Interhemispheric Resource Center’s Americas Program . All rights
Recommended citation:
“Mexico to Even Score after U.S. Approval of Tough Trucking Access
Law,” Americas Program Feature (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric
Resource Center, February 8, 2002).
Web location: