US and Mexico resolve trucking dispute, but how will it affect US roads?

Security experts differ on whether tractor-trailer truck safety breaches within Mexico will mean the problem will spill over into the United States.

US teamsters have long warned that inviting Mexican 18-wheel rigs onto American highways was like giving a free pass to violent drug traffickers to smuggle their goods across the border.

But the United States signed a deal anyway with Mexico on Wednesday allowing Mexican long-haul trucks to deliver their goods deep into US territory.

The decision to finally fulfill an international trade agreement struck 15 years ago raised the usual alarm bells by US trucking organizations. Teamster General President Jim Hoffa said that apart from robbing jobs from American drivers, the deal “ignores the rampant corruption among Mexican law enforcement” and “rampant drug violence.”

The question remains whether the border crossing of Mexican trucks will result in unsafe conditions on US roads.

Conditions inside Mexico have deteriorated as drug-related violence killed more than 35,000 people in the past four years and trafficking groups have branched out into almost every criminal activity.

Trucking companies have not been immune: Cargo theft rose 50 percent between 2009 and 2010, Mexico’s National Cargo Shipping Chamber told the Monitor.

Shippers must drive longer hours to avoid dangerous cartel turf and the media report drugs secreted inside shipments. Tractor-trailers have also been caught recently near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala carrying hundreds of illegal migrants into Mexico. Many of the migrants were eventually headed to the US border.

But security experts differ on whether safety breaches within Mexico will mean the problem will spill over into the United States.

Mexican drug cartel expert George Grayson of the College of William & Mary in Virginia says more trucks will mean more drugs, “The more vehicles you have crossing the border, the more opportunities you have to accomplish smuggling.”

Supply and demand

Drug trafficking volumes obey US demand, which will not increase just by allowing more trucks into the US, says Jorge Chabat, national security expert at Mexico’s Center for Economic Research and Teaching.

The argument may be moot, however, since trucking industry representatives here and importing representatives in the US say few, if any, Mexican trucks will sign onto the program.

No Mexican company will invest money to join the cross-border program if their truck drivers can be denied permits after an 18-month trial period, as the accord indicates, says Refugio Munoz Lopez, director general of Mexico’s shipping chamber.


“I see no future with this program,” Mr. Munoz says of Mexico’s decision Wednesday to remove punitive tariffs on $2.4 billion of US exports in exchange for allowing Mexican trucks to cross the border. “The only thing this accord does is give Mexico an excuse to remove tariffs.”

Mexico slapped the tariffs on US goods in March 2009, after the US cancelled a pilot cross-border trucking program. Cross-border trucking had been required since 1995 by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But the tough new security requirements for truckers wishing to cross into the United States make it prohibitive for all but 115 out of 400,000 Mexican trucks, Munoz says. Those vehicles had already applied for the program in its first incarnation in 2007, before it was cancelled in 2009, he says.

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, says drivers should not be alarmed by the entry of Mexican trucks. Currently, every one of them passes some form of inspection at the US border, he says.

Very few Mexican trucks will decide to ship goods into the United States only to return as “deadheads,” as empty trucks are called. It would cost too much money, says Mr. Jungmeyer, who represents importers in Nogales, Arizona, the largest land entry-point of fresh produce into the US.

As the Denver-based Transportation Business Associates states in a recent report about the trucking accord: “It won’t be a big deal here.”

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