(UPDATED COVERAGE, Oct. 9) The U.S. Department of Transportation must decide soon how to proceed at the conclusion of a three-year U.S. pilot program allowing Mexican trucks full access to U.S. roads.
The pilot program expires Oct. 14, and the DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are required by law to collect a statistically valid sample before the agency decides whether to permanently open up the U.S. market.
The FMCSA is now in the process of reviewing this data from more than 5,000 truck and driver inspections, industry sources said.
Officials at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have not indicated what their next move will be, said Julie Manes, director of government relations for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.
Opposition to the program remains vocal, with the Grain Valley, Mo.-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association questioning federal officials about the validity of the data they collected. In an Oct. 1 letter from Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the group, to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Spencer said the data collected was from just a few carriers and did not accurately reflect the safety performance of the trucks in the pilot or the broader Mexican fleet.
The drivers association said in a news release that there have been only 13 pilot program participants, out of more than 132,000 Mexican carriers.
“The data generated by the program clearly shows that the program should not be renewed or made permanent,” Spencer said in the release.
Jim Huizinga, manager of Heyl Logistics Inc., Edinburg, Texas, said the he doesn’t see how giving Mexican trucks permanent access to the U.S. would be positive for the American trucking industry, especially because sending U.S. trucks with U.S. drivers to Mexico will be avoided because of violent conditions in some regions.
“I have no idea how that could possibly help us,” he said, also expressing doubt that Mexican trucks could deliver produce and other goods in a way to save American consumers money.
The U.S. launched the pilot program in 2011, at which time Mexico removed retaliatory tariffs it had placed on certain U.S. fruits, vegetables and nuts. The tariffs, imposed in 2009 and lifted in October 2011, ranged from 10% to 45%, on items including apples, grapes, pears, lettuce and other agricultural commodities exported to Mexico.
Mexico could reinstate those tariffs if the U.S. fails to live up to its North American Free Trade Agreement obligations to provide full access to Mexican carriers, industry sources said.
“Our concern is if the program doesn’t get at least a temporary extension, is that going to gear Mexico up to start making the threats again on retaliatory tariffs?” said Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.
Gilliland said federal agencies must sort through the data and make an announcement before mid-October.
“We’re certainly hoping (the decision) will be to make it permanent,” he said.
Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said how exactly the Department of Transportation will proceed is not known but federal authorities should try to keep the U.S. in compliance with its trade obligations.
“They want to keep the highways safe while fulfilling our NAFTA obligations, and keep us out of further retaliation from Mexico,” Powers said.