NAFTA Cross-border Trucking Case


The NAFTA trucks case highlights the threat posed to public safety by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In 2009, the United States was slammed with trade sanctions on $2.4 billion of U.S. goods for not allowing nationwide U.S. access for Mexico-domiciled trucks despite continuing safety and environmental problems. Shockingly, in late 2011, the Obama administration caved to NAFTA – imperiling highway safety and clean air on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border – rather than renegotiating NAFTA’s outrageous provisions.

In October 2011, the first Mexico-domiciled truck crossed the border under the Obama administration’s illegal pilot program. Public Citizen, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Sierra Club have filed a lawsuit to block this dangerous program. Under the program, Mexico-domiciled trucks entering the United States do not need to show that they are built to U.S. safety standards, nor do drivers of these trucks need to meet all physical standards required of U.S. drivers. Furthermore, the administration did not follow proper procedures when conducting an environmental impact assessment. The program does not even serve its stated purpose of evaluating the ability of Mexico-domiciled trucks to operate safely in the United States, since there is no plan to collect a statistically valid sample of program participants.

The NAFTA truck saga provides an example of how NAFTA reaches “behind the border” to undermine important domestic environmental and safety policies, and how Congress can lose control of such domestic policies if they are implicated by a trade pact. NAFTA included a requirement that all three countries’ highways be fully accessible to trucking companies based in any NAFTA nation by 2000, an item pushed by large U.S. trucking firms seeking deregulation and lower wages. (Mexican long-distance truck drivers are paid about one-third of what U.S. drivers earn.) NAFTA also recommended, but did not require, that Mexican and U.S. truck and driver standards be harmonized (i.e. made uniform, although not necessarily at the higher U.S. level). Year after year, the U.S. Department of Transportation conducted studies that revealed severe safety and environmental problems with Mexico’s truck fleet and major flaws in Mexico’s drivers’ licensing and insurance, drug testing, and hours of service tracking systems.

For detailed background on the NAFTA trucks case, click here.

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