Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's plan for reopening the U.S.-Mexico border to long-distance trucking is drawing familiar reactions from industry constituencies.The American Trucking Associations, which has long supported an open border, welcomed the announcement. The Teamsters union and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association remain adamantly opposed to opening the border.

Mexico sees the plan as a positive first step toward resolving the trade dispute, according to a Reuters report. Reuters quoted Humberto Trevino, the Mexican deputy transport minister, saying that his government would review the proposal and respond by Monday. Once an agreement is reached, Mexico's retaliatory tariffs could be lifted, he told Reuters.

Mexico applied the tariffs starting in 2009 after the U.S. Congress halted a demonstration program in which a limited number of trucks were permitted to cross the border into the U.S. interior.

"Concept Document"

Yesterday LaHood unveiled a "concept document" for restarting the border trade. "The Obama Administration will continue to work with Congress and other stakeholders to put safety first," DOT said in the statement. A formal proposal should be posted for public comment "in the coming months," DOT said.

The concept outlines a three-pronged program that includes preliminary vetting of Mexican applicants, monitoring of operations and communications to the public and Congress. It is similar in many respects to the pilot program DOT was conducting up until March of 2009.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., yesterday praised the DOT initiative.

"I am glad that the Administration is moving forward with a plan to finally end the devastating Mexican tariffs on Washington state agricultural products," Murray said in a statement. "Now that the proposal has been put forward, I am strongly urging the Mexican government to end their harmful tariffs immediately and allow our farmers to once again compete on the level playing field they deserve."

Murray, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation Appropriations, had been active in the debate over the DOT pilot program, pushing for changes that ensured equal access to Mexico for U.S. trucks and an opportunity for the public to comment on the plan.

ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said in a statement: "Though a long time has gone by since the cancellation of the NAFTA trucking demonstration project, and many millions have been lost in business opportunities for U.S. exporters, today's announcement by Secretary LaHood is a positive development in resolving this costly trade dispute with Mexico."

Graves said ATA looks forward to getting more details and to seeing NAFTA's trucking provisions implemented "in a fair and reciprocal manner in both countries."

Safety Debacle or Business Boon?

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said in a statement that Mexico is "bullying" the U.S. into letting its carriers have full access.

"Mexico's regulatory standards aren't even remotely equivalent to what we have in the U.S.," he said. "If a new cross-border trucking program were implemented in the near future, U.S. truckers would be forced to forfeit their own economic opportunities while companies and drivers from Mexico, free from equivalent regulatory burdens, take over their traffic lanes."

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a statement that opening the border would threaten highway safety and permit increased drug trafficking.

"I am deeply disappointed by this proposal," Hoffa said. "Why would the DOT propose to threaten U.S. truck drivers' and warehouse workers' jobs when unemployment is so high? And why would we do it when drug cartel violence along the border is just getting worse?"

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supports cross-border trucking, lauded the move.

"Today's news that the administration is taking a first step toward resolving the long-running U.S.-Mexico trucking dispute is very welcome," said Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue in a statement. "If we're going to double exports within five years, we must hold on to export markets, such as Mexico, where American companies are already doing well."