Is the NAFTA trucking dispute finally over?

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A Mexican truck will make a delivery to a Dallas suburb this afternoon, thereby realizing some of the liberalization promised by NAFTA 17 years ago. WaPo:

The first Mexican carrier to deliver goods in the U.S. interior under a long-delayed free-trade provision is scheduled to enter the country at Laredo, Texas, shortly after midday Friday.

The truck owned by Nuevo Leon, Mexico-based Transportes Olympic will make a delivery to the Dallas suburb of Garland. That’s despite continuing opposition from the Teamsters union and some lawmakers who fear the program will make U.S. highways more dangerous and cost American jobs.

The truck will carry a monitoring device. The move complies with a provision of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

The company was also the first approved under the 2007 pilot program before President Barack Obama’s administration canceled it [in 2009]. Mexico retaliated by placing tariffs on 99 agricultural products worth more than $2 billion annually.

A little over a year ago, I noted that Washington insiders didn’t expect the dispute to be resolved “any time soon”, but in the broader context, 14 months isn’t bad. So what does the program do? It includes a lot of measures to address the safety concerns raised by its opponents:

Supporters say especially strict safeguards have been implemented: Electronic devices will track the routes drivers take, how long they drive and how long they rest. Participating drivers must undergo national security and criminal background checks, and inspectors will administer oral English-proficiency exams.

Does this end the dispute? Not necessarily. Look up the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s announcement in the Federal Register and you’ll discover that this is a three-year pilot program, a fact not made clear by some press coverage. From the Federal Register (pdf):

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announces its intent to proceed with the initiation of a United States-Mexico cross-border long-haul trucking pilot program to test and demonstrate the ability of Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate safely in the United States beyond the municipalities in the United States on the United States-Mexico international border or the commercial zones of such municipalities (border commercial zones)…

In a pilot program, DOT typically collects specific data for evaluating alternatives to the regulations or innovative approaches to safety while ensuring that the goals of the regulations are satisfied. A pilot program may not last more than 3 years, and the number of participants in a pilot program must be large enough to ensure statistically valid findings.

Will the pilot program have large effects on international trade? Both sides claim big numbers:

Todd Spencer, the executive vice president of the Independent Drivers Association, which represents small independent trucking businesses, said 100,000 trucking jobs will be lost. Proponents say it will spur economic growth as companies save millions by sending the goods door-to-door.

But I doubt we’ll see any such impacts soon. Tire Business reports:

So far two small Mexico-based motor carriers have been certified for the program. They are Transportes Olympic of Monterrey, with two vehicles, and Grupo Behr de Baja California S.A. de C.V. of Tijuana, with five vehicles.

However, the FMCSA is withholding Grupo Behr’s permit while reviewing objections raised by the Teamsters and others regarding Grupo Behr’s safety record. The Teamsters also question Transportes Olympic’s record on safety.

You can track the approvals online at the FMCSA’s website. That site says that Transportes Olympic has registered one vehicle and two drivers. It looks like the dispute will continue in some form, for the time being.

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