9/28/00 Statement by Lori Wallach on NAFTA Truck Dispute
One of the most dramatic examples of how so-called trade agreements such as NAFTA reach far beyond appropriate commercial issues is the current NAFTA truck crisis. The backlash against NAFTA and the global WTO is fueled by these pacts' attempts to dictate domestic safety, health and other policies that directly and dramatically effect peoples lives.
Among its 900 pages of rules and regulations, NAFTA includes a provision requiring standardization of NAFTA countries' truck safety and drivers licensing standards. NAFTA also required that by January 1, 2000 trucks from any NAFTA country could drive anywhere is all NAFTA countries. (See Transportation Annex, Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, NAFTA, 1993.
Yet, on the eve of that NAFTA-required opening of U.S. highways, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Inspector General found the same problems initially reported in a 1995 study: nearly half (45%) of Mexican trucks coming across the U.S. border has such serious safety violations that they had to be put out of service altogether. Moreover, Mexican drivers do not enjoy the safety protections of their U.S. counterparts, such as limits on how long their companies can require them to drive without rest, required training on specific rigs and for hazardous loads or required health check ups. Differences in U.S. and Mexican commercial drivers license requirements are stark.. In addition, DOT investigations have found that Mexican trucks are considerably older (15 year on average) than U.S. trucks (4.5 year average) and are allowed to carry much heavier loads.
To make matters worse, the NAFTA-led flood of imports from Mexico into the U.S. have meant a jump in the number of trucks crossing into the U.S. Yet, less then 1% of the Mexican trucks now entering the narrow commercial zone in which they can operate in the U.S. are inspected. That means that nearly half of the 99% of four million trucks now coming into the U.S. from Mexico have significant safety problems but are not stopped.
Thus, in an effort to keep America's highways safe, the U.S. delayed the border opening. In 1998, Mexico filed a formal challenge of the delay before a NAFTA arbitration panel The panel is scheduled to make a decision soon.
Regardless of the NAFTA panel's ruling, the U.S. must maintain its pro-safety position and over-ride the NAFTA open-border dictate in the name of saving lives. It was not the legion of U.S. consumer, highway safety and other groups concerned about this NAFTA truck disaster who wrote: that "far too few trucks are being inspected at the U.S.-Mexico border and that too few inspected trucks comply with the U.S. standards." That's a quote from the Clinton Administration in a November 1999 audit from DOT.