Despite a major breakthrough last year that allows trucks from Mexico to travel to the interior of the U.S., few expect to see a convoy of 18-wheelers heading to Chicago or Los Angeles.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994, has provisions that allow trucks from the U.S., Mexico and Canada to venture into all three countries, but delays and opposition by the Teamsters union put those provisions on hold.
A pilot program was launched in 2009, but the Obama administration canceled it a short time later. Mexico responded by levying high tariffs on 99 agricultural commodities.
Finally last summer, President Barack Obama and Mexico President Felipe Calderon approved an inspection and monitoring program for Mexican trucking companies that had been approved under the 2009 pilot program, and the first truck from Mexico arrived in Garland, Texas, in October.
The Teamsters union has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration opposing the program claiming Mexican trucks and their drivers fail to meet U.S. safety standards. But proponents say the trucks are inspected by U.S. agencies and drivers are subject to drug testing and must meet other criteria.
So far, enrollment in the program has been low, said Allison Moore, communications director for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz.
“We haven’t seen a ton of transportation companies actually signing on to the program,” she said.
Allison said the U.S. has an obligation, along with Canada and Mexico, to abide by the trade agreement.
“It can only benefit the trade relationship by making sure that it is implemented properly and that it has the full support of the administration,” she said.
Grower-shippers say the program has not had an impact on the table grape deal.
“We transload everything into our Nogales cooler. Then everything gets loaded out of there,” said Louie Galvan, managing partner at Fruit Royale Inc., Delano, Calif.
The company only has to get its product to Nogales, he said, and then customers’ trucks pick it up.
Typically, trucks drop off product in Nogales, pick up materials and return to the ranch in Mexico, said Jared Lane, vice president of marketing of Stevco Inc., Los Angeles.
“Not a large percentage travel beyond Nogales,” he said.
Part of the reason few produce grower-shippers will take advantage of the program is that many buyers want mixed loads, which typically are consolidated in Nogales and shipped on a U.S. truck, not shipped directly from Mexico, Moore said.
Also, Nogales is another “quality control step along the way,” she said. “That’s a big part of what distributors do.”
Finally, trucks likely would not have a backhaul, she said. Growers would not want to lose the availability of a truck that makes a drop in Chicago and then drives back to Mexico empty.