Here is an excerpt from Richard Simon's article in the Los Angeles Times:
"Congress has hit the brakes on a Bush administration program to give Mexican trucks wider access to U.S. roads, putting President Obama in the middle of a politically sensitive trade dispute. A $410-billion spending bill that passed the Senate on a voice vote Tuesday would end funding for the cross-border trucking program, one of the most contentious issues to arise out of the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement. Critics of the cross-border program -- including the Teamsters and lawmakers from both parties -- have expressed concern about the safety of Mexican trucks. Before 2007, Mexican trucks had been limited to a narrow zone north of the border, where they transferred their cargo to American big rigs. But then the Bush administration granted about 100 Mexican trucks wider access to U.S. roads under a demonstration program." Link to Full Article
I actually wrote a short bulletin on this for my regular job some time ago, so I'm pretty familiar with this program - and all the concerns many have about it. The two main concerns among those in the trucking industry, those on the Hill, and the general public were safety on US roads and the potential for Mexican truckers to bring nasty things into US territory, like drugs, guns, or illegals. The US Department of Transportation made clear what rules and regulations Mexican truckers had to followupon entering the US, which were pretty stringent. There are three lines of defense the US had to ensure these regulations were being followed - audits and inspections performed IN MEXICO on trucks from program-selected trucking companies, inspections at US ports of entry, and inspections performed by US law enforcement on US roads and highways. Because of the training the auditors, CBP inspectors, and highway patrolmen receive on truck safety features, I felt pretty comfortable with the safety aspect of the program.
The potential for Mexican trucks to bring nasty things into the US is another story. Here is a photo from DEA's website of cocaine recovered from a secret compartment in the roof of a tractor-trailer:
This is just one example. And despite the increased potential for transport of illegal materiel, the desire to keep the program going for economic reasons was very strong. In March 2008, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters issued a statement urging Congress to keep the program going. She said "trucking provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)...[delivered] economic benefits to U.S. workers, farmers, businesses and consumers." Further she said, "A broad coalition of more than 69 U.S. companies and agricultural and business organizations support the project because of the benefits it provides to U.S. exporters who every year ship billions worth of products and produce into Mexico. Should Congress choose to end the project, Mexico has the right under the rules of NAFTA to impose fees and tariffs on U.S. goods that would surely result in lost business and lost jobs." As it appears the program will be ending soon despite her pleas, we'll see if those fees and tariffs come to fruition. I, for one, am happy there will be one less avenue for the smuggling of bad things into the US.