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Published: Thursday, 12/6/2001

The road to free trade

The agreement reached between Congress and the Bush administration to allow Mexican trucks to travel U.S. highways seems to have satisfied both those concerned about safety and those wanting more open trade with our southern neighbor.

The deal pushes aside a selfish move by the Teamsters Union to protect jobs at the expense of full implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The House reflected that protectionist mood last summer in passing legislation that banned Mexican trucks outright.

The agreement also allows the U.S. to finally comply with a NAFTA provision that gave Mexican rigs access to our roads by Jan. 1, 2000. Their trucks now are confined to a 20-mile zone, necessitating expensive and time-consuming reloading, which defeats the purpose of free trade.

Reflecting the concerns of safety groups, the deal is both comprehensive and stringent, requiring a physical inspection of every Mexican truck before it crosses north of the border, with follow-up inspections every 90 days; electronic verification of the license of every Mexican driver hauling hazardous cargo, and checks on at least half of those hauling other items; entry to the U.S. only at border points where inspectors are on duty, and verification that Mexican trucking firms have insurance, undertake alcohol and drug screening, and employ drivers with clean records.

In addition, Mexican truckers will be kept out until the U.S. Inspector General and Secretary of Transportation certifies that the government is capable of enforcing the new standards.

The compromise has the blessing of Rep. Martin Sabo, Democrat of Minnesota, sponsor of last summer's ban, who said it “honors my main concern that the safety of the American traveling public must come first.”

While we believe that free trade must not mean exporting U.S. jobs to cheaper labor markets, opening our roads will improve relations with Mexico and at least give NAFTA a chance to operate in the spirit intended.

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