House Rejects US-Mexico Truck Proposal
Legislators demand strict safety rules for Mexican trucks operating on US highways
WASHINGTON, DC - 09/28/04 - The US House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to challenge a Bush Administration proposal to ease restrictions on Mexican trucks operating on roads in the US.
In a 339-70 vote late last week, House members approved an amendment to a $90 billion transportation-spending bill that would prohibit the Department of Transportation (DOT) from granting a two-year exemption from certain safety rules to trucks and buses that were not certified as meeting US safety and environmental standards at time of manufacture.
The exemption was adopted by the Bush Administration in March 2002 in response to repeated charges from Mexico that the US was discriminating against the Mexican trucking industry.
The White House action also came in response to a 2001 North American Free Agreement (NAFTA) arbitration panel ruling that US restrictions on Mexican trucks violated the pact.
Due to ongoing legal challenges, the exemptions were not implemented, and language in the transportation bill, as approved by the House, would prevent the Bush Administration from putting them into action.
The transportation bill also must be passed by the Senate before a final bill can go to the president for his signature or veto.
The White House did not immediately comment on the House vote, but President Bush has voiced his "strong interest" in resolving the trucking dispute with Mexico.
Some media reports have suggested that Bush would be willing to veto any measure that included the House amendment.
NAFTA - signed by the US, Canada, and Mexico in 1993 - provided for full access to US roads by Mexican trucks and buses by 2000. The Clinton Administration postponed implementation on the basis of safety and environmental concerns and restricted Mexican trucks to a commercial zone just north of the US-Mexico border.
The issue has been an irritant to US-Mexico relations ever since, and Bush Administration efforts to settle it have been hampered by court challenges and by congressional demands for environmental and safety assessment reports.
At the time the exemptions were adopted, the administration also proposed that all commercial vehicles operated in the US, including those operated by Canadian and Mexican carriers, display a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) label certifying compliance with US motor vehicle safety standards.
Even though many of the vehicles now being used by Canadian and Mexican firms were originally manufactured in compliance with those standards, vehicles intended for use outside the US would not have carried the NHTSA-required label, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Debate on the House floor focused on the labeling issue, with opponents of the amendment accusing its supporters of using a technicality to disguise simple US protectionism against Mexico.
"This does not have anything to do with the safety standards of the trucks that are traveling on the roads inside the borders of the United States," said Representative Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz).
He argued the Bush Administration's proposed DOT exemption is for labeling "at the time of assembly" and should not apply to trucks that were not originally intended for use in the US.
Those trucks "were not assembled for use in the US market so they do not have the label. It is hard now to go back and get that," he said.
Apart from the label, Kolbe argued, "every single standard that is required of the truck here in the United States has to be met by that truck coming in from Mexico."
In response, Representative Ken Oberstar (D-Minn.) defended the need for identical standards among all NAFTA countries.
US standards "are set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, inspected by the US Department of Transportation, and require a certification label," he said.
The label "means that each vehicle has been built in compliance with US standards," he said, adding that there shouldn't be "one standard for the US and another standard for trucks and buses coming in from Mexico."
Although the Mexican trucking issue must still be debated in the Senate, the lopsided House vote suggests ongoing difficulties for the Bush Administration on what has proven to be chronically contentious issue.
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