The White House plan would have allowed limited access during a one-year evaluation program, after which the U.S. borders would be fully opened to Mexican trucking.
The House, however, voted 411-3 in favor of legislation setting a three-year pilot program allowing 100 Mexican trucking companies, operating a maximum of 1,000 trucks, limited access to U.S. highways. The program would be overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In addition, the House-approved pilot program would require the Mexican trucks and drivers to be certified as meeting the same safety standards applied to the U.S. trucking industry. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that it could take the 100 Mexican trucking companies until at least 2008 to meet the required standards.
Lawmakers questioned the safety of the Mexican trucking fleet, made up mainly of older vehicles, and Mexican truck drivers, who are not subject to the same on-road health and safety requirements applied to U.S. truck drivers.
Currently, Mexican truckers are allowed to cross the border, but must stop within a 20-mile "buffer zone" to transfer their loads to U.S. truckers, who take them farther into the country. Conversely, size and weight restrictions imposed by the Mexican government prevent many U.S. trucks from entering Mexico.
Canadian and U.S. trucks cross the northern border and travel freely throughout both countries.
Under the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), unlimited trucking access between the U.S., Mexico and Canada was promised by 1995. Ongoing disputes, mainly over the safety of Mexican trucks and drivers, have prevented the U.S. and Mexico from meeting the NAFTA deadline.
The bill passed by the House is H.R. 1773 - the Safe American Roads Act. Senate consideration has not yet been scheduled.
What It Means to You:
While safety is the foremost issue, lawmakers have also expressed concern that free access to the U.S. for Mexican trucks could cost many American truckers their jobs. Mexican truck drivers are typically paid far less than U.S. truckers operating as members of the powerful Teamsters Union. In addition, environmental groups oppose unlimited Mexican trucking access, citing the fact that the Mexican government imposes few environmental restrictions on commercial vehicles.
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