Rumors that the United States may open its border states to Mexican trucks by next year are premature, judging from reaction to the idea on Capitol Hill.
In congressional testimony, a U.S. Department of Transportation official said the department may be ready to start processing Mexican applications late this year. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican and U.S. carriers were to be allowed a certain amount of cross-border access in 1995, but the U.S. has kept the gates closed for fear of unsafe Mexican trucks.
Even though DOT has been working on safety and licensing procedures for Mexican carriers, that fear is as strong now as it ever was. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA, chairman of the House Transportation subcommittee on appropriations, was not swayed when he heard Charles Hunnicutt, assistant DOT secretary for aviation and international affairs, say that the Mexicans now have driver licensing and data systems that are compatible with those in the United States.
Wolf, who was holding hearings on the performance of DOT’s Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety, declared that he will hold hearings on the issue next December before DOT moves forward on the border issue.
Wolf had just heard the testimony of DOT’s Inspector General Kenneth Mead, who said that about 44% of Mexican trucks crossing the border do not meet U.S. safety standards. “There has been little improvement,” Mead told the transportation panel. “There are too few safety inspectors at the Mexican border – for example at El Paso, where 1,300 trucks enter the U.S. daily, there is only one inspector.”
U.S. labor organizations, which have been the major political force behind the continued closing of the border, remain adamantly opposed.