Free Movement Across US-Mexico Border Expected To Commence January 1, 2002

TRUCKS should begin moving more freely across the US-Mexico border on January 1, 2002, barring further delays in provisions of the North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an Austin attorney told members of the National Tank Truck Carrier Safety Council Seminar April 12 in San Antonio, Texas.

“You've got time to see your attorney and coordinate a plan if you want to operate in Mexico,” said Kenneth Hoffman of Austin, Texas. “Any United States carrier that wants to operate in Mexico will be able to do so soon. Some carriers will use it as a marketing tool.”

At the same time, the situation will spark competition for carriers on both sides of the border, he said. Added to the mix is the likelihood of some Mexican and US drivers refusing cross-border trips between the two countries.

More Mexican carriers are applying for entry into the United States than United States carriers to enter Mexico, Hoffman said. And, he added that he believes many Mexican carriers are as safe as US carriers. Mexican carriers entering the US will have to produce evidence of $750,000 liability insurance.

However, shippers rather than individual carriers, according to Hoffman, will dictate most of the cross-border business. Many US and Mexican carriers will continue to make interchanges at the border, or at locations close to the border.

While the borders are opening up, that does not mean that there won't be many legalities to overcome. Hoffman pointed out that Mexico has more application formalities than the United States, that there will be stringent insurance requirements, and that drivers will have to be able to communicate in English and Spanish. Special permits will be required for hauling hazardous materials. Mexico has nine classes of hazardous materials that require various placards.

Many of the Mexican regulations conform to international transport rules developed under the auspices of the UN Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. United States regulations already conform to the rules.

Equipment coming into the United States will have to meet US standards. US carriers planning to extend operations into Mexico will have to take into account the Mexican laws that apply to criminal activity. Civil laws also will be involved when events occur, such as a traffic accident.

“You will need to work with a Mexican lawyer if a US driver is arrested,” said Hoffman. US carriers can expect to be audited by Mexican officials who have been trained by US Department of Transportation (DOT) officials. However, to date, few Mexican auditors have received training. The US DOT also will audit carriers in Mexico just as it does Canadian carriers. The US DOT is expected to tighten inspections at the border and to target Mexican carriers. “Enforcement is the key to it and the border states are ready,” said Hoffman. “Everybody will know the rules and that they will be enforced.”

At the same time, federal money will have to be budgeted to fund hiring and training additional US inspectors.

Other considerations remain undecided. For example, Mexico has driver log requirements, but no hours-of-service regulations. Coordinating weights and lengths of vehicles among the countries has yet to be decided.

In Mexico, road infrastructure is inadequate to handle increased traffic, and inspection stations are inland, rather than at the border.

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