Tuesday, the president signed the $59.6 billion transportation appropriations bill for the 2002 fiscal year, which started Oct. 1. In addition to containing $32.9 billion in highway spending, the legislation imposes new laws on Mexican trucks before they are allowed further entry into the United States under the long-delayed terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The compromise legislation was passed in late November by the House and early this month by the Senate following a summer and fall of intense words between the White House and lawmakers, who were finally able to put tougher entry requirements on Mexican trucks than President Bush wanted.
But on the same day the issue was finally put to rest in Washington, 11 Mexican trucking companies filed a $4 billion class action lawsuit against the U.S. government, accusing it of illegally denying them access to U.S. markets as called for in NAFTA.
The suit, filed on behalf of 185 Mexican trucking companies, accuses the Department of Transportation of violating NAFTA because they were denied entry into the U.S. interior, as well as violating the U.S. Constitution by allowing Canadian trucking companies more access to the U.S than Mexican carriers.
Leading the charge in the lawsuit is attorney Fernando Chavez, the son of late Mexican labor leader Ceaser Chavez. His side claims that continued delays in opening the U.S. further to Mexican trucks, mainly under the now-departed Clinton administration, caused Mexican trucking operations to lose $4 billion in profits and business since 1995.
Officials with the Transportation Department have yet to respond to the suit, but already it is being criticized, with the Teamsters Union, which has been a major force in the delay of the border opening, calling it “baseless.”