Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced a plan for reopening the U.S.-Mexico border to long-distance trucking.
LaHood unveiled a "concept document" for restarting the border trade that was interrupted when Congress cut off funds for the Bush administration's pilot program.
That cut-off in March 2009 led to a series of tariff actions by Mexico in retaliation for U.S. violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, under which the U.S. is supposed to permit long-distance trucking.
LaHood is sharing the concept with Congress and the Mexican government as a starting point for renewed negotiations, DOT said in a statement.
"The Obama Administration will continue to work with Congress and other stakeholders to put safety first," DOT said in the statement. "A formal proposal, which the public will have the opportunity to comment on, is expected to be announced in the coming months."
Plan Similar to 2009 Program
A background document on the concept outlines three elements: pre-operations vetting, monitoring of operations and communications to the public and Congress. Neither hazmat carriers nor buses would be permitted.
Pre-operations vetting would include an application process in which the number of participants in the first phase of the program would be limited to ensure oversight, subject to agreement with Mexico.
This provision echoes the 2007 Bush administration approach of beginning the opening process with a demonstration program under which a limited number of U.S. and Mexican carriers could conduct business across the border. The idea was to test the effectiveness of a safety management system devised by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as a prelude to fully opening the border.
The vetting and inspection processes in the LaHood concept also echo what FMCSA has done in the past.
Included are a pre-authority safety audit in which the agency would review the Mexican carrier's safety management program and the records of drivers who would be crossing the border, including their Mexican federal and state records. The drivers would be tested for English proficiency and knowledge of U.S. traffic laws. Mexican carriers' safety performance in Mexico would be reviewed, and the audit would include inspections of the trucks for U.S. safety and emissions compliance.
The operations element of the concept provides for inspections - including inspections each time a truck crosses the border, for a period of time to be negotiated - and reviews to follow up on the initial screening review. A Mexican carrier would have to clear a Compliance Review and earn a Satisfactory Safety Rating in order to get full operating authority. Insurance would be monitored and the agency could conduct compliance reviews of Mexican drug and alcohol testing facilities.
The communications program would include public notice and an opportunity for comment, a web site at the FMCSA home page, creation of an advisory committee and period reports to Congress - all elements of the earlier pilot program.