Almost 20 years after the North American Free Trade Agreement promised an open flow of goods across the continent, the first Mexican truck was permitted to enter the U.S. inland under the agreement this week.
The AP reports the first rig to cross the Rio Grande heading north was a Freightliner truck hauling a steel drilling structure. The driver, Josue Cruz, "waved from the cab, flashed a thumbs-up and thundered toward the bridge" to Laredo, Texas.
The provision to permit hauling U.S.-bound goods in Mexican-inspected trucks was blocked from being fully implemented because of fears that rigs inspected and registered in Mexico would compromise the safety of American roads.
The cross border trucking issue has been a sticking point between the nations since shortly after the 1994 agreement was signed. Originally, Mexican trucks were supposed to have access to border areas by 1995, and the U.S. highway system by 2000. That never happened. There was considerable opposition from labor groups to all of NAFTA, including this provision which, opponents say, would eliminate U.S. trucking jobs. But the official concern was always stated as safety.
While Canadian trucks have free access to U.S. roads, Mexican trucks were viewed as a potential hazard because the inspection, maintenance and driver certification processes was seen as too lax. Mexican trucks have been crossing the border into a buffer zone where they unload their haul into an American truck.
There was a short lived pilot program in 2007 that allowed some Mexican trucks across, but President Obama canceled it in 2009, sparking retaliatory tariff increases from Mexico permitted under NAFTA.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says this new plan is a pilot program as well. According to their website, only one company has been granted, permission for two drivers and one vehicle. Eleven companies are applying for certification. Mexico-based companies that pass will granted three years of access to the wide open American road. American trucks will be given reciprocal access south of the border.