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Dan Lipinski blasts deal allowing Mexican trucks on U.S. roads

Trucks line up Nogales Mexico cross border United States 2001. | AP

Trucks line up in Nogales, Mexico, to cross the border to the United States in 2001. | AP

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:35AM

Mexican trucks filled with goods from south of the border could be rolling into Chicago as early as next month under a deal just signed by the Obama administration and the Mexican government.

In return for the U.S. allowing the trucks north of the border, the Mexican government is dropping tariffs on $2.3 billion dollars worth of American goods.

That means Christmas trees from Oregon and apples from Washington state will cost about 20 percent less in Mexico. Pork exports to Mexico are also expected to soar.

Farmers and business groups, excited at the possibility of doing more business with Mexico, hailed the deal.

However the agreement — which fulfils a long-debated provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement — prompted howls from the both the Teamsters Union and independent truck owner-operators.

They say it will kill jobs and make highways less safe.

And with the ink barely dry on the deal, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), co-sponsored legislation that would cut off funds the Department of Transportation needs to implement the agreement.

Currently, Mexican trucks are only allowed 25 miles north of the U.S. border. From there it is American trucks and drivers that do all of the hauling of Mexican goods.

“Opening the border to dangerous trucks at a time of high unemployment and rampant drug violence is a shameful abandonment of the Department of Transportation’s duty to protect American citizens from harm and to spend American tax dollars responsibly,” Jim Hoffa, president of the Teamsters. said in a statement.

However, the deal, signed Wednesday, attempts to address safety concerns by requiring Mexican trucks operating in the U.S. to meet a host of tougher U.S. federal, state, and local safety standards.

Conditions for operating in the U.S. include:

Security and background checks for Mexican trucking companies and each driver.

A review of each driver’s Mexican commercial driver’s license history

Electronic onboard monitoring of each vehicle to ensure drivers take required breaks and do not exceed daily limits on driving hours.

An oral English language proficiency exam testing knowledge of U.S. traffic laws and signs.

Physical inspection of each vehicle participating in the program

Additional inspections of each vehicle upon entry to the U.S. for the first three months of the program.

Testing of each vehicle to meet U.S. emissions standards.

U.S. insurance coverage for each vehicle.

Mexican trucking firms will also have to show they test drivers for drug and alcohol use, and they won’t be permitted to transport goods from point to point within the U.S.

U.S. trucks will be granted the same privileges in Mexico, but are unlikely to take advantage of it due to their higher operating and labor costs compared to local Mexican firms.

Under NAFTA and previous agreements, Canadian truckers are already able to enter the United States without having to meet any special requirements.

Under the agreement allowing Mexican truckers into the U.S, the money to pay for the electronic monitoring of the Mexican trucks will come from road funds financed by federal gasoline taxes.

Lipinski’s legislation, just introduced Thursday, takes aim at this, barring the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to pay for the onboard monitoring systems.

The new agreement, Lipinski said, “Takes money from the highway trust fund and purchases these electronic on-board recorders for the Mexican trucks. We need the money for our own roads. When I tell people that their tax money will be paying for equipment on Mexican trucks, they can’t believe that this would be happening.”

Lipinski said he has always had concerns about the safety of such a deal and voted to shoot down an earlier Mexican trucking deal made by the Bush administration.

“I really believe there are significant concerns for safety on our roads and also for the jobs of American truck drivers,” he said.

Chicago, Lipinski said, will be affected because it is a major destination and transit point for goods coming up from Mexico.

“These truck drivers are paid less in wages than American truck drivers and that could cost Americans jobs,” Lipinski said.

Lipinski does, however, credit the Obama administration with negotiating a better deal than a previous agreement made by the Bush administration.

“They worked to put in more provisions and tried to answer the questions about safety, but I don’t think the provisions are enough,” Lipinski said.

Congress shot down the earlier Bush truck agreement by defunding it.

But this time, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is calling the deal a win for roadway safety and a win for trade.

In a press statement LaHood said, “By opening the door to long-haul trucking between the United States and Mexico, America’s third largest trading partner, we will create jobs and opportunity for our people and support economic development in both nations.”

But even with the new agreement, it’s possible a relatively small number of the 300,000 truckers in the Mexican fleet will even want to make long-distance hauls on U.S. highways.

Mexican trucking firms won’t want to invest the money needed to launch U.S. operations out of fear that Democratic and union opposition could still kill the deal down the road, the head of the Mexican trucking association told the Dow Jones News Service.

“We see the agreement as a good faith effort, as a type of experiment,” said Jose Refugio Munoz, head of Canacar, which represents 8,000 Mexican trucking firms. “It’s a start, on paper, but we have no illusions that this is a definitive program. We view it with skepticism.”

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