One of President Obama's campaign promises was to "upgrade" and
"retool" the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA). An excellent way to start would be for him to make the
Bush Administration's pilot truck program with Mexico
As The Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady
reported, "Mexican trucking companies [had] a long history of
operating in the U.S. and with no notably inferior safety record"
until 1995, "when Bill Clinton issued an executive order--in
violation of NAFTA, which he had signed into law--to stop Mexican
long-haul trucks from crossing the border. Mr. Clinton was
responding to pressure from Teamsters, who didn't want any new
competition. He cited safety concerns--things like substandard
drivers and vehicles--which to this day have never been supported
by evidence." Since then, trucks from Mexico have largely
been confined to U.S. border areas.
Notwithstanding fierce opposition by the Teamsters and other
U.S. organized labor groups, in 2007 the U.S. Department of
Transportation (USDOT) approved a NAFTA-consistent "Cross Border
Demonstration Project" that gave "27 Mexican carriers with 107
trucks" full access to the U.S. road network. Until
then, USDOT regulations had required all Mexican trucks to unload
their cargoes at warehouses close to the border where they were
re-loaded into U.S. trucks for onward shipment throughout the
According to USDOT, the superfluous warehousing and
loading/unloading added $400 million per year to the price of
Mexican imports, which has been passed on to American consumers. Under
the USDOT pilot program, an equal number of American-owned trucks
are also permitted to operate freely in Mexico, thereby increasing
the profits of both U.S. companies shipping products to Mexico and
the American trucking companies hauling them there, as well as
creating U.S. jobs.
The Bush Administration extended the program twice, resisting
efforts of pro-Teamster Members of Congress who inserted language
into the Fiscal Year 2008 omnibus spending bill that would have
killed the pilot project. Although protectionist critics have alleged
safety problems with Mexican trucks, the Federal Motor Carrier
Safety Administration--the relevant oversight agency in the
Department of Transportation--"recently issued a report showing
there had been no accidents involving trucks participating in the
program." The Mexican trucks are constantly monitored
while in the U.S. and must meet rigorous USDOT safety
requirements. In fact, "Mexican trucks in the program
have a better safety record than their American counterparts."
As Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute has noted:
Although the Teamsters talk about safety, their real agenda is
not to promote safer roads but to protect themselves from increased
competition. The real agenda of their congressional allies is to
thwart full implementation of a successful trade agreement with
Mexico, our third-largest trading partner. The real objection they
have to Mexican trucks making deliveries to U.S. cities is not that
they are unsafe but that those trucks are driven by Mexicans. In
the eyes of congressional leaders, "driving while Mexican" remains
an unacceptable public hazard.
The U.S. and Mexican economies are deeply intertwined, and both
are facing problems. Increasing efficiency in trade between the two
countries will benefit both sides and strengthen the
pro-market-based democratic approach of Mexican President Felipe
Calderon. Improved safety of both the U.S. and Mexican long-haul
truck fleet will also contribute to improved national security in
Congress, President Obama, and his new transportation secretary,
Ray LaHood, should reject calls by protectionists to end the
cross-border trucking program and, instead, take immediate steps to
expand it and make it permanent.
Roberts is Research Fellow for Economic Freedom and Growth
in the Center for International Trade and Economics (CITE) at The
Press release, "U.S. Transportation Secretary
Peters Urges Congress to Keep Cross Border Trucking Program Going,"
U.S. Department of Transportation, March 10, 2008, at http://www.dot.gov/affairs/dot3408.htm
(January 15, 2009).
Crawley and Garcia, "U.S. Extends Mexico
Truck Program Despite Objections."
Finney, "DeFazio Believes Mexico Truck Program
will be Halted by Executive Order"
U.S. Department of Transportation,
Daniel Griswold, "Attempt to Limit Mexican
Trucking in U.S. Masks Union Agenda," Cato Institute, December 20,
2007, at http://freetrade.org/node/818 (February 6,