Months after the Obama administration cleared the way for a pilot program allowing Mexican truckers on U.S. roads, just one company has entered the country through the program.
Although the U.S.-Mexico Cross-Border Trucking Pilot Program was made possible by the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, and lobbied for by Mexican shippers — and some U.S. exporters — until its approval in July, just two Mexican companies have received approval, with only one company’s drivers entering the U.S.
There appears to be more interest — with possibly more than 20 companies waiting for U.S. approval — but some in the produce industry say that’s still a low level of participation.
“If there were more Mexican firms that were approved and beginning to operate, I think that would be a good thing,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer for the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council.
There is some concern about the relatively low level of participation on the part of Mexican truckers, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash.
“While that is not an immediate issue, part of the requirements of the pilot program is that the results (on truck safety and other measures) be statistically valid,” Powers said.
Low participation will be a red flag for the program two or three years down the road, he said.
U.S. exporters’ interest in program’s approval, in part, was to lift Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs on more than $2 billion worth of U.S. exports to Mexico, enacted after Congress scrapped funding for an earlier pilot in 2009. Mexico placed 10% tariffs on fresh apples, cherries, onions, grapes, pears and other fresh produce commodities.
NAFTA promised cross-border access, but delays tied to environmental concerns and union opposition eventually led a dispute settlement panel to allow the retaliatory tariffs.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Motor Carrier Safety Administration, only two Mexican trucking companies have been granted active operating authority since the program began in October, and only one of those had made crossings into the U.S. The FMCSA reports that Transportes Olympic has made eight crossings and has received seven inspections since being granted authority in October.
The agency said the pilot program is designed to “test and demonstrate the ability of Mexico-based motor carriers to operate safely in the United States beyond the municipalities and commercial zones along the United States-Mexico border.” The pilot program allows Mexican motor carriers to operate throughout the U.S. for up to three years.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 12 Mexican trucking companies are waiting for approval in the program, but Keeling said he’s heard there are 21 companies on the list.
Keeling said industry advocates were also keeping an eye on Congress to make sure that lawmakers sympathetic to Teamster demands to keep Mexican trucks out of the U.S. don’t kill the program again by cutting funds.
“Congress is going to mark up the Highway Transportation and Reauthorization bill in the House in the next couple of days so we are watching that so someone doesn’t try to do something mischievous,” Keeling said Feb. 1.