Congress passes measure to kill funding for pilot program

By Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOT

The on-again off-again plan to allow crossborder trucking between the United States and Mexico may be off again. In mid-September the US Senate added an amendment to the Department of Transportation fiscal year 2008 spending bill that would cut off funds for the program.

Mexican trucks have already made deliveries into the US under a pilot program launched earlier this year by the Department of Transportation. That program would have ultimately allowed 100 Mexican trucking companies to operate in the US. If the Congressional disapproval of the program stands, however, all that will come to an end.

The Senate amendment stated that no funds made available under the Transportation appropriations bill ‘may be used to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.’ The House of Representatives had adopted a similar measure earlier this year.

‘Congress has said that enough is enough,’ said Todd Spencer, executive vice-president of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) that opposed the crossborder program. ‘They’re tired of the administration’s efforts to force the pilot program on the American people. Our nation’s safety and security should never be put at risk.’

Satisfaction with the Senate’s vote was far from unanimous. The Border Trade Alliance, an industry group which supports the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and others involved in trade with Mexico expressed disappointment in the passage of the Senate amendment. ‘The BTA is very disappointed that a majority of senators chose to support an amendment backed by fear and not the facts surrounding DOT’s actions to ensure the safety of the American public in conducting this pilot,’ stated Maria Luisa O’Connell, BTA’s president.

‘Policymakers need to make well-informed decisions and consider the impact they have on our border communities,’ added Stephanie Caviness, President of the Foreign Trade Association in El Paso, Texas. ‘DOT’s pilot program would not only have increased economic activity but would have also reduced congestion and its associated impacts. It would have increased the efficiency of trade conducted at our border with Mexico and provide well-needed relief to our already over-burdened infrastructure.’

The Senate also defeated an alternative amendment, backed by the BTA, which would have required every truck entering the United States as part of the demonstration program to comply with the same safety standards as US trucks. Under the alternative amendment, Mexican trucks participating in the program would have had to verify their compliance at three-month intervals.

Lengthy procedure

The wrangling in Congress brings to a head a controversy that has been ongoing for over seven years over the implementation of NAFTA’s crossborder trucking provisions. NAFTA was supposed to have created an open market for crossborder transportation by January 1, 2000. But implementing crossborder trucking has proved to be problematic. Until the inauguration of this year’s pilot program, US and Mexican trucks operated only within a few miles to the other side of the border.

The Clinton administration repeatedly withheld access to Mexican trucks citing safety concerns, until a NAFTA dispute panel found those delays to be unjustified in March 2001. The Bush administration then declared the border would be open on January 1, 2002, while an array of opponents lobbied Congress for further delays. Congress obliged during the summer of 2001, passing restrictions to the authority of the Department of Transportation to process Mexican carrier applications for operating authority and to make infrastructure improvements and personnel enhancements at the Mexican border.

On February 23, 2007, United States Secretary of Transportation Mary E. P