Wednesday, July 6, 2011
The United States and Mexico today signed a trade agreement that will cut tariffs on U.S. produce. In return, the U.S. has promised to comply with an obligation in the original North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The disputed part of the original NAFTA agreement, signed in 1994, allowed Mexican-based trucks to travel farther into the U.S. and past commercial zones along the border. This was not honored by the U.S. until today.
In 2009, Mexico retaliated against U.S. growers by imposing tariffs on produce entering Mexico, affecting about $900 million worth of produce.
Ken Barbic, with the Irvine-based Western Growers association, said exports of the commodities that Mexico retaliated against dropped by over 50 percent as a result of the tariffs imposed.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the tariffs will begin to be cut by Mexican officials on July 8th by 50 percent. The rest of the tariffs will be cut as soon as the first Mexican carrier receives authorization to operate in the U.S.
"We hope that when the tariffs are fully removed we'll see a restoration of that market for California producers," Barbic said.
Mexican trucks will now be able to carry out trips from Mexico deep into the U.S., but will only be allowed to carry that original shipment. These trucks will not be allowed to carry out domestic trips after reaching the original destination.
Critics of the change of policy have cited safety concerns in the past.
Congressmen Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) have already introduced legislation that would add restrictions to today's agreement and have it remain a pilot program for the first three years.
“This Administration and its predecessor have shown unrelenting interest in opening the Southwest border to unrestricted vehicle traffic from Mexico despite legitimate safety, security and economic concerns,” said Hunter.
In a statement by Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the change in policy is considered a "win for road-safety and trade."
Mexican truckers approved for the program will have to prove they understand the English language and traffic signs in the U.S.. They will also have to meet the same safety standards as American cargo trucks.
LaHood said the final program published today addresses the recommendations of over 2,000 people who commented on the proposal issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in April.
The new agreement will also allow American cargo trucks to operate south of the border.
The Western Growers association said this would help California producers growing lettuce, pears and onions, among other fruits and vegetables.
In 2006, at the height of the trucking permit, almost 10 million Mexican trucks crossed through the California and Texas borders, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.