Advocacy group opposes NAFTA pilot program

Public Citizen and other advocacy groups are calling for congressional hearings after Mexican and US officials announced February 23 a pilot program that initiates NAFTA truck cross-border agreements.

Joining Public Citizen in the protest are the Truck Safety Coalition, an umbrella group representing Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tired Truckers, and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The group said it sent letters to Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress indicating that "there is an urgent need for oversight hearings on safety and security issues before the DOT (US Department of Transportation) rushes to open the southern border.”

The advocacy group argued that many Mexican drivers and Mexican trucks do not meet US safety requirements, and "that the border is not ready for a surge in these long-haul trucks traveling freely throughout the country."

On the other hand, DOT said inspectors will conduct in-person safety audits to insure that participating Mexican companies comply with US safety regulations that require all truck drivers to hold a valid commercial driver license, carry proof they are medically fit, comply with all US hours-of-service rules, and be able to understand questions and directions in English.

Mexican truck companies that may be allowed to participate in the one-year program will be required to have insurance with a US-licensed firm and meet all US safety standards. Companies that meet these standards will be allowed to make international pick up and deliveries only and will not be able to move goods from one US city for delivery to another, haul hazardous materials, or transport passengers, according to DOT.

According to Public Citizen, a 2005 report by the US DOT Inspector General (IG) found that many of those benchmarks had not been met. However, the IG office issued a statement February 26, 2007, saying that two events are to occur before Mexican carriers may operate beyond the commercial zones at the southern border. The first event is an OIG review of border operations to verify eight criteria that address hiring and training of FMCSA inspectors, establishment of inspection facilities, and development of safety processes and procedures. The review was completed and the OIG reported its findings to DOT in June of 2002.

The second event requires certification by the Secretary of Transportation, in a manner addressing the OIG findings, that the border does not pose an unacceptable safety risk to the American public. The Secretary of Transportation made that certification in November of 2002.

As required, the OIG office has continued to annually review border operations and has issued periodic reports and findings to DOT. "Our latest report, issued in January 2005, found that FMCSA continued to have the staff, facilities, equipment and procedures in place to substantially meet the eight criteria," the OIG information said.

More information about the program is available on the dot.gov Web site.

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