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American Shipper

U.S. market poses challenge for Mexican truckers

U.S. market poses challenge for Mexican truckers

   Speakers at a U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce conference on border issues said they were encouraged by the Obama administration's recent attempt to reopen the U.S. market to Mexican trucks, but a trucking industry official said only a limited number of Mexican truckers would take advantage of the opportunity.

   In January, the Department of Transportation published a 'concept document' outlining requirements that Mexican companies and drivers would have to meet to be eligible to drive on U.S. highways. Mexican trucks have been restricted to a 20-mile corridor on the U.S.-side of the border.

   The United States pulled the plug in 2009 on a pilot program with several dozen Mexican carriers after the U.S. Congress refused to fund the effort. Mexico retaliated by imposing $2.4 billion in tariffs on select U.S. imports. The North American Free Trade Agreement that went into effect in 1994 required both countries to open the border to long-distance truck traffic.

   Labor unions, and some safety and environmental advocates, have successfully opposed entry of Mexican trucks on the grounds that they do not meet U.S. safety and pollution standards and would be a menace to passenger traffic.

   Even when NAFTA trucking is fully in place 'we're not going to see thousands of Mexican trucks coming across the border' as opponents fear, said Martin Rojas, vice president of security and operations for the American Trucking Associations.

   Most Mexican trucking firms are likely to be discouraged by the high insurance premiums necessary to operate in the United States, and the fact that the United States has one of the world's most competitive trucking industries, he said.

   About 70 percent of the value of U.S.-Mexico trade moves by truck.

   Cross-border truck traffic will not really accelerate until motor carriers take more responsibility for customs compliance in Mexico, as happens in the United States, Rojas said afterwards.

   Mexican Customs essentially uses customs brokers to conduct a piece count and match the load with the 'pedimento,' a document equivalent to a U.S. customs entry or export declaration. That's because the Mexican government requires duties and taxes to be paid before the goods cross the border to prevent fraud. The process slows down commerce until the broker checks the cargo it receives, electronically transmits the pedimento to Mexican Customs and waits for the cargo to be formally released to leave or enter the country.

   Large trucking firms, which do not want to tie up their equipment and drivers waiting for clearance or in lines at the border checkpoint, rely on a system of cheap shuttle drivers often affiliated with the brokers to transfer loads back and forth to terminals on either side of the border for pickup by a long-haul truck. A more streamlined system would allow U.S. and Mexican firms to cross the border themselves and drop trailers directly at a partner's facility, assuming they do not want to transport the cargo to the interior of the country, he said.

   In the United States, motor carriers file their manifest with U.S. Customs and importers file entries and pay duties after the goods have entered the country.

   Rojas said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which will implement the cross-border truck plan, is expected to run some sort of pilot program again to gradually build confidence in the ability of Mexican trucks to operate safely on U.S. highways, but details such as the length of such a program are not yet available.

   Under the DOT plan, carriers and cross-border driver information would be vetted by the Homeland Security and Justice departments, and there will be carrier safety management programs covering areas such as vehicle maintenance, drug and alcohol testing programs, and driver qualification files.

   Drivers would have to pass an English language proficiency and U.S. traffic law test, and for an agreed upon period of time a carrier's long-haul operations, vehicles and drivers would be inspected by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration each time one of its vehicles crosses the northbound border.

   DOT said it would use electronic systems for “redundant monitoring of program's trucks, drivers and carriers.” After passing two reviews, participating carrier would be eligible for full operating authority. ' Eric Kulisch

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