Critics say that the Clinton Administration is letting politics subvert trade policy, but the White House says the decision is motivated by safety concerns. Opening the border would antagonize the Teamsters Union, which vehemently opposes the move. Vice President Al Gore is courting organized labor in his bid for the presidency, and has yet to gain the endorsement of the Teamsters.
NAFTA, signed in 1993, calls for letting Mexican trucks and buses travel freely throughout the United States as of Jan. 1, 2000. However, just as it did when a December 1995 provision would have allowed Mexican trucks in the border states, the Clinton Administration cited safety concerns and said it will keep the border closed. The only access Mexican trucks currently have to the U.S. are in narrow "commercial zones" along the border.
Mexican officials are angry about the decision. Last fall, they filed suit against the United States under NAFTA's dispute resolution process. The United States has filed a countersuit. Mexico says the U.S. is clearly violating the treaty. Administration officials say the treaty allows them to suspend or delay provisions when they have safety or health concerns.
The Teamsters Union expressed its pleasure with the decision. "Working families throughout the United States appreciate this bold step taken by the Clinton administration," said Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. "No longer will companies be allowed to use NAFTA to take our jobs and endanger our health and safety. The DOT's own Inspector General has confirmed that Mexican truckers lack training and are underpaid, under-regulated and operate poorly maintained trucks."
A recent inspector general's report found that when 21,000 Mexican trucks were inspected at the border, 41% of them failed to meet American safety requirements. The DOT also recently found that there are many Mexican truck operating illegally in the United States. Still another report shows that Mexico's death rate from vehicle accidents is more than three times those of the United States and Canada.
It is likely that any border openings will not happen until after the November election.