Transportation officials anticipate an audit report on the trucking pilot program with Mexico within a month, and U.S. produce professionals are a bit anxious, fearing a negative report could lead to another round of retaliatory tariffs.
Mark Powers, vice president of international trade and transportation for the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said the apple, pear and cherry industry in the Northwest paid tens of millions of dollars during the three years that Mexico imposed 20% tariffs.
“We want to see the pilot program be successful,” Powers said. “We also hope if Mexican (trucking) firms show they are not really interested … that their government will take that into consideration when looking at potential tariffs.”
The North American Free Trade Act requires the U.S. to allow cross-border trucking, but opposition by U.S. trucking unions and trade organizations kept the Mexican trucks out for more than a decade after the act went into effect in 1994. The opponents cited safety concerns with Mexican trucking equipment and drivers.
Despite lobbying efforts and some congressional roadblocks, the pilot program finally gained approval from President Obama and his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderon in July 2011. The first Mexican truck came into the U.S. in October 2011.
However, as of Aug. 17, only six Mexican carriers — each with one truck approved for the program — are participating in the pilot program.
Four other carriers are nearing approval, having passed DOT inspections. Another 10 Mexican carriers have applications pending with the DOT.
One requirement built into the pilot program is that the DOT be able to document the safety of the Mexican trucks and drivers with “statistically valid” data. Powers said that could be a difficult task because of the low participation numbers.
Officials on the DOT’s Inspector General’s staff do not have a specific release date for the audit report, but spokesman David Wonnenberg said the original late summer deadline announced in October 2011 is still the target.