The dispute over granting Mexican trucks access to the U.S. market has been simmering ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1994. It came to a head in 2009, when the Democratic Congress put the brakes on a pilot project initiated by the Bush Administration in 2007.
I've seen a few interesting reports in the past few days that touch on this subject. One was from another trucking publication, The Trucker, which said an anonymous source told them Mexico is considering again changing the list of items on which they slapped punitive tariffs in retaliation for the U.S. not opening the border to long-distance trucking as required by NAFTA.
This hit just weeks after the Journal of Commerce quoted a senior Mexican diplomat as saying it won't accept another pilot program as a solution.
Reflections From a Produce Show
Jay Thompson, a former Cummins guy and today president of consulting firm Transportation Business Associates, posted a blog over the weekend with his thoughts on that news. You can read it here.
Thompson, who also is involved in jatropha farming (a source of biofuel), was at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas convention last week on the Arizona-Mexico border.
"When you listen to the grower community talk about their biggest issues, the border issue is one of top ones," he writes. "When these folks find out that I'm involved in the trucking world, we get it by the truckload. The Mexican government is really trying to help grow the ag sector to offer jobs, feed their own people and export a safe product to the world - and are getting more than an earful from people wanting to expedite the border flow. In other words, the Mexican noise is being prompted by the private sector seeking efficiencies."
"We still contend that allowing trucks beyond the commercial zones will not be a big deal once implemented. We won't see a flood of Mexican trucks in the U.S. for a variety of reasons." But, he said, "Delays in making the NAFTA decision results in delays in building trust."
The Drug Issue
I have to wonder, as well, how the increased concern about drugs and drug violence at the border will play out in the debate over allowing trucks more access to the U.S. NPR had a very interesting story on drugs and trucks at the border on its "All Things Considered" show Monday.
Even without the long-distance trucking cross-border agreement in place, truck traffic through the Laredo, Texas, crossing has tripled since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force 16 years ago, NPR reports in the story, titled "Drugs Cross Border By Truck, Free Trade And Chance." This fiscal year, the story notes, more than 4.7 million commercial trucks crossed into the U.S. from Mexico.
"If customs inspectors examined every truck, it would cripple free trade. Instead, one out of every five trucks is unloaded and inspected. So drug traffickers play the numbers game."
Reporter John Burnett concludes, "Free trade is one of the greatest gifts for drug traffickers."
Looks like the cross-border trucking debate is far from over.