An amendment to the Motor Carrier Safety Act passed last week by the U.S. House of Representatives would penalize Mexican carriers that intentionally operate outside the commercial zone along the U.S.-Mexican border.

The amendment, sponsored by Jack Quinn, R-NY, and Bill Lipinski, D-IL, undermines a key provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The 1993 treaty was supposed to give trucks from Mexico complete access to the four border states beginning in late 1995. But President Clinton put a hold on that provision because of concerns from organized labor and safety advocacy groups. The agreement calls for unrestricted access to the U.S. beginning in January 2000, but it doesn't look like that is going to happen, either.
Mexican officials aren't happy about the United States' failure to honor NAFTA. Mexican officials last week said they might file a formal protest if this new legislation is signed into law.
Currently, Mexican trucks are restricted to commercial zones, which extend from 3 to 20 miles from the U.S.-Mexican border. Mexican trucks must transfer their cargo to American shippers within these zones. However, recent government reports have found a large number of Mexican trucks outside these border zones, and problems with truck inspections at the border.
The House measure requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to fine Mexican carriers found operating illegally outside the commercial zones up to $10,000 and a possible disqualification for the first offense, and up to $25,000 and automatic disqualification for a second offense. It also would authorize the DOT to immediately order Mexican carriers off the road if they do not have proper registration, and revoke a motor carrier's registration if it doesn't pay the above penalties.
The Clinton administration supports the proposal. At a recent Teamsters event - the first time a sitting president appeared publicly with Teamster leaders since 1944 - Clinton announced his support for maintaining the current restrictions on Mexican truck access to the United States. "I don't intend to allow the trucking rules to be changed until there are safety measures in place," he said.
The Teamsters union hailed the amendment as a victory. "Allowing these unsafe Mexican trucks to continue to traverse the U.S. without regard for our laws is unacceptable," said Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. "If the DOT cannot control these operations when it is illegal, there is no reason to believe that they can handle the massive influx of Mexican trucks under a full-fledged implementation of the NAFTA transportation provisions."