The omnibus spending bill for 2010 signed into law last week by President Obama does not include language prohibiting funds for a pilot program to give Mexican trucks limited access to the U.S.
This is in contrast to the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2009 passed in March, which prohibited the U.S. Department of Transportation from funding such a program.
"Inside U.S. Trade" reports that the 2010 spending bill does nclude language outlining numerous requirements that the administration would need to meet if it decided to restore the old Mexican trucks pilot program. Congress imposed these same requirements on the pilot program under the Bush administration. However, the Bush administration sidestepped the requirements by calling the cross-border trucking initiative as a "demonstration project" instead of a "pilot program."
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the crossing was supposed to have been opened to border-state traffic in 1995 and to long-distance traffic in 2000. The opening was stalled until 2007, in part by difficult negotiations with Mexico, but mainly by the legislative and legal tactics of U.S. labor, owner-operator and citizen advocacy groups who fear loss of U.S. jobs to Mexican drivers and argue that Mexican trucks will not be safe.
After Congress in March cut off the pilot program, the Mexican government slapped $2.4 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods.
The Obama administration said it wants to come up with an alternative approach to cross-border trucking. In May, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the White House was close to having a plan to revive long-distance trucking across the border, but apparently that did not come to fruition. By September, Roy Kienitz, the DOT's undersecretary for policy, was saying he did not expect the Obama administration to move on resolving the cross-border trucking issue this year, although it was a major topic of discussions between President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon during meetings in April and in August.
Observers expect the issue to raise its head again. Sooner or later U.S. interests that have been hurt by the tariffs will apply enough pressure to get things moving again.