Teamsters Press Trump to Drop NAFTA’s Mexican Trucker Provision
As reported by Stephanie Beasley
The Teamsters Union is lobbying President Donald Trump to eliminate a NAFTA provision that allows long-haul Mexican trucks to operate in the U.S.
Teamsters General President James Hoffa discussed a contentious North American Free Trade Agreement provision that allows cross-border trucking trips originating from Mexico when he met with Trump on Jan. 11, a union spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA. The union, which has for years raised concerns about allowing Mexican trucks on U.S. highways, said Trump seemed open to the idea of rejecting the provision, if he moves forward with his campaign promise to renegotiate NAFTA.
“The important thing is that we have an open dialogue with the administration regarding it,” the Teamsters spokesperson said. “It’s something that we believe the new administration will follow through on.”
President Trump has yet to make any public statements indicating plans to eliminate the provision as part of a potential re-opening of the NAFTA agreement.
The Teamsters are also fighting the provision in the courts. The union, along with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Inc., Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Truck Safety Coalition is suing the Department of Transportation in an attempt to reverse the agency’s decision to allow Mexican trucks to operate in the U.S.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2015. Oral arguments for the case will be heard by a federal judge in March.
Implementation of the NAFTA trucking provision already has been blocked multiple times since the trade deal went into effect in 1995. A pilot program set up by the Bush administration in 2007 was defunded by Congress less than two years later. The Obama administration launched another pilot in 2011, after Mexico imposed more than $2 billion in retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. for not complying with the NAFTA motor carrier provisions. House Democrats, including Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), opposed initiation of the trial program.
DeFazio said he was especially concerned that under the program, Mexican trucks would be permitted to operate on U.S. highways beyond an existing border commercial zone.
Safety Issues Raised
Detractors cited concerns that trucks coming from Mexico might be less safe than U.S. vehicles and that Mexican truck drivers will not have been trained to comply with U.S. driving laws.
Reports from both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that Mexican motor carriers participating in the cross-border pilot operated at a safety level equivalent to or better than U.S. and Canadian carriers. For example, FMCSA data from 2016 showed that roadside inspections of Mexican-owned trucks resulted in 0.86 percent of driver violations serious enough to halt their trips immediately, compared with a 4.8 percent of such driver violations for all motor carriers on U.S. highways.
Opponents of allowing the Mexican trucks on U.S. highways contend the federal data does not give a full picture of how cross-border trips from Mexico might play on a larger scale, according to Henry Jasny, senior vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. He said FMCSA’s pilot is based on tracking trucks traveling to distribution points in commercial zones around the border. Those trips can be as short at 10 or 12 miles, Jasny said.
“You’re not going to find a lot of violations necessarily on short trips like that in the border zones,” Jasny said. “Our concern is that when they open the border to all trucks and they can travel from Guadalajara to Minneapolis, that that kind of longer trip involves much more maintenance issues and you can have more breakdowns, more violations and ultimately more crashes.”
He said that he was especially worried about older Mexican trucks without safety and braking systems equivalent to U.S. trucks traveling on highways and roads throughout the country. The DOT should be required to make sure that Mexican carriers meet the same safety standards as U.S. trucking companies, Jasny said.
AFL-CIO Transportation Trade Department (TTD) President Ed Wytkind said he was equally concerned about the possibility that Mexican carriers would not abide by U.S. labor regulations.
“One of the things that we argued for many years is that it’s difficult to make sure the labor standards are fully met and that the people driving are compensated fairly and are protected by labor laws and requirements,” he said. “And that helps the drivers in Mexico, who otherwise could face a sort of exploitive environment depending on who the employer is and how they’re treated.”
Although Wytkind did not specify whether he would push for elimination of the NAFTA trucking provision, he said that if President Trump decided to renegotiate the framework, TTD would certainly push for changes to the safety and labor requirements.
The American Trucking Associations, which represents the majority of U.S. trucking companies, struck a more neutral tone.
“We will work to support any trade policies that help grow good paying American jobs and the trucking industry,” Bill Sullivan, ATA’s executive vice president of advocacy, said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA.
According to data provided by ATA, trucks move 83 percent of trade items between the U.S. and Mexico, accounting for 5.5 million crossings in 2015.