Cross Border Pilot Program Hits Roadbocks

sportsou

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The latest plan to let Mexican trucks cross the U.S. border to deliver goods is facing the same kind of obstacles that stalled earlier efforts.

Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters announced Feb. 23 a one-year pilot program to allow about 1,000 trucks from 100 Mexican companies to start hauling freight into the U.S., as soon as the end of April.

The coalition of unionized truck drivers, safety groups and some members of Congress, which has been erecting barriers since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, promises more barriers.

Americans "will pay the price" for "an incompetent agency, safety deficits with Mexican trucks at the border, and the use of a pilot program," said Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a D.C. public interest group.

The renewal of the dispute reflects how difficult it can be for governments to meet international obligations, even those contained in a treaty, in the face of opposition from determined interest groups.

The stakes are high: U.S. surface transportation trade with Mexico, most of it by truck, was $272 billion in 2006, a 13 percent increase from the year before, according to the Department of Transportation. Because of previous restrictions, Mexican trucks have been able to operate only within a 20-mile "commercial zone" across the border, where goods are offloaded and picked up by U.S. carriers.

Full cross-border trade was supposed to open by 1995, under a provision of NAFTA. President Clinton first blocked access because of safety concerns. President Bush's administration tried again in 2001, only to see Congress add 22 safety requirements.

This year's shift in control of Congress means the pilot program faces even stiffer opposition. The House and Senate already have held oversight hearings.
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