NAFTA Truck Fiasco

September 2, 2011

John Salisbury

OPINION By JOHN SALISBURY

We really weaseled out on our part of North American Free Trade Agreement-1994 (NAFTA) which included a requirement that Canada, Mexico, and the United States allow full access to each country’s highways.

Pressure from the trucking labor unions and their unfounded claims that Mexican trucks and drivers were unsafe, had environmental problems and shouldn’t be allowed on our roads, prevented the implementation.

Also, there was their falsehood that U.S. trucking jobs would be threatened when in fact it would open up both Mexico and Canada for new hauling opportunities. Nothing was said or done about problems with Canada’s trucks. Know why?  Teamster can organize in Canada but not in Mexico.

So during the Clinton years, trucks from Mexico were allowed only to go a few miles north of the border in the buffer zone. Mexico won a formal NAFTA challenge that ordered the United States to open the borders in 2001 or face severe trade sanctions.

The newly installed President George Bush tried to implement the order but was blocked by a group of labor and environmental groups in U.S. Federal court. This verdict was over turned in 2004 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Bush then worked with Mexico to implement a successful pilot program for Mexican trucks, only 96, to be allowed access. The Department of Transportation’s study during this test concluded that long haul Mexican trucks were safer than our trucks to include their short haul trucks in the border buffer zone.

However, again under pressure from certain members of Congress and trucking labor unions the new President Obama, who as a Senator voted with the labor unions, signed a law ending the 18 month truck access program. Do you see the political trend here?

So what’s Mexico to do after 15 years of being singled out but impose severe tariffs ($2.4 billion) in 2009 on our U.S. trade which was applied against a lot of ag-products including table grapes (45 percent tariff) and wine (20 percent). Our table grape shipments alone dropped from 5.5 million boxes in 2008 to 1.6 million (plus 70 percent) the following year. Wine also suffered with our country’s third largest trading partner.

It is estimated that $900 million in U.S. agricultural products alone have been impacted by the tariffs imposed in retaliation by Mexico. Unions said jobs would be threatened if the trucks were allowed to cross the border and what happened?

Well, many jobs were lost alright but not for the self interest unions but for those in many of other industries who were severely affected by the crippling tariffs.  Finally in July this year, we owned up to our obligation and signed an agreement with Mexico allowing access to trucks on both sides of the border. The order will be fully implemented soon and tariffs will be cut back or eliminated as a result.

Of course, there was an immediate bill by Rep. Peter DeFazio, (Dem-Oregon) to block the administration from going through with the agreement – why is that not a surprise. We will see if the “Quesos Grandes” in Washington finally have the fortitude (was going to use another Spanish word here but this is a family column) to say no to the Teamsters.

A side note as to safety and cost. I was in Mexico farming tomatoes near Los Mochis, Sinoloa while NAFTA was being negotiated and signed. I had to transport my tomatoes by Mexican trucks, which after inspection on both sides of the border, had to be unloaded just north of the border into a warehouse and then picked up later by an American carrier. This delayed the tomatoes from getting to the markets in Phoenix and San Diego by at least two days plus I had to pay for all the warehousing and the unloading and loading of the trucks.

Besides the added cost, the time delay and extra rough handling didn’t help my fresh vine-ripe Roma tomatoes one bit.

This trucking agreement was to have eliminated all this. I would have had the choice of a Mexican or U.S. truck to pick up my tomatoes in the field, get inspected, and sail right through the border on to the markets – cheaper and better quality as a result. Having been in the truck business most of my life, I can attest to the high quality of the Mexican trucks and drivers that I used.

At that time, because of NAFTA, most of them had been gearing up to be qualified to haul goods and produce into the United States with top of the line equipment only to have the door slammed shut on them. This really has been a sorry chapter in our dealings with Mexico no matter what you think about NAFTA or Mexico for that matter.  Ah, politics – you gotta love it.

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy,” said Ernest Benn, British Publisher.

John is a 6th generation California farmer whose family has been continuously farmed in California for 160 years starting in the Sacramento Delta in 1850. John now concentrates on farming 45 acres of wine grapes in the Avila Valley and Paso Robles producing Salisbury Vineyard wines.


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30 Comments

  1. Rick Murray says:

    I have been involved in about all aspects of the American trucking industry for many years. I have driven almost two million miles myself. I have owned and managed trucks. I research out the industry on many levels as I am also an independent researcher as well as an independent journalist who works primarily for trucking publications. I have worked as a lobbyist for independent truckers as well and know many on state as well as federal levels of government.

    This whole Mexican trucking thing is not as it appears. First, you have to go back to the beginnings of NAFTA and discover the motives behind the accord. Ask yourself, just who benefits the most? Yes, the consumer has some benefit, but we are not the one’s who benefit the most.

    There are two different classes of trucks coming into the country as has been suggested in previous comments. There are those that merely come across the border, drop a load and return to Mexico. There are also those that come into the country for extended periods of time, travelling all across our country. The NAFTA trucks are in better shape, and I predicted years ago this would be the case. However, I do not see them as being in better overall shape than our own trucks, especially those of some of the smaller companies who have to work with tighter profit margins, especially when trying to deal with tighter regulation and increased fees.

    But as far as current inspection procedures, especially once these trucks are in the country, many inspectors and DPS officers have told me off the record that they are being forced to look the other way on most so the program does not get a black eye. They are frustrated about this but have no place to go to complain if they wish to keep their jobs. This applies especially to enforcement of hours of service, drug use, (there are no drug testing centers in Mexico and their government has demanded that we do not enforce our drug laws on their drivers, so this little thing has slipped under the rug. Yes, we did have a public showing a couple years ago when we brought a whole plane load of Mexican drivers to a Texas clinic for testing to show we are drug testing the drivers, but this is as far as it has gotten.

    The program where we pay to have electronic on board recorders placed in Mexican trucks is a major farce. Few trucks have had these placed and the program is under major fire. DPS and other inspection officials are told not to enforce what few there are either, and the Mexican drivers are not using log books, and few, if any, are even trained to do so. Add in the fact that there are no hours of service laws in Mexico, that we cannot enforce HOS while the truck is operated in Mexico, and they can drive for many hours before crossing the border. Then and only then could we even start HOS for a Mexican driver. This means that even if we did enforce HOS for Mexican trucks, a 12 hour day can only start at the border, meaning a Mexican driver could be behind the wheel for many hours before he is allowed to operate for 12 more!

    Mexican, (and Canadian,) drivers are only allowed by law to deliver a load picked up in their home country in ours. They can then pick up a load in our country but only if it delivers back in their home country. This is also not going to be enforced and many American drivers are complaining that Mexican drivers are now appearing at American warehouses to pick up loads delivering elsewhere in this country. There is no official reporting agency for these violations and DPS officers are complaining off the record, that they cannot enforce the laws. Both our government and the Mexican governments are subsidising Mexican trucking operations so these trucks can operate at a much lower rate than can our own. The freight brokers know this and have been dropping rates for many loads.This means lower operating profits, if any profit can be realized by an American trucker at all!

    I talked to four Mexican drivers at a truck stop in Tucson just yesterday. They told me they have been in our country for over a month each and were heading back to Mexico. They each told me about picking up and delivering loads all over the country and driving through many states. One told me he was pulled in for inspection at a port in Wyoming while heading to Denver to deliver a load picked up in Oregon.. The inspector asked him about his brakes, log books, (No EOBR in any of these four trucks,) a head light being out and more, but he did not get a ticket. He was told he was supposed to comply with American laws then released with verbal instructions to get these things taken care of. He told me he never did and no one else bothered him.

    I do not care what the laws are if they are not enforced. Also, as these trucks are operating with no enforcement, no one can tell me this is not hurting our jobs here in this country. I know many American owner/operators as well as company drivers that are calling it quits. They cannot make it here any more and it will only get worse. I am looking at the reality of this and it has nothing to do with my personal politics. Just find the real facts for yourself and the picture becomes clear.

    (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
    • justme says:

      So John the Farmer and ttruth stretcher wiggle outa this guy’s findings

      (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. justme says:

    This guy shovels more crapola out there trying to cut costs at our expense than can be believed. NAFTA, drunkeness, illegal immigration, dangerous 18 wheelers on the road, lost jobs to Mexies.all mucho bueno as far as your concerned, aye?
    The bottom line of your illicit business is all you’re really trying to pump up. Get off this blog, you’re being obvious, and dangerous to society.

    (-2) 8 Total Votes - 3 up - 5 down
    • johnthefarmer says:

      Hey justme: You want me to get off this blog? Without people like me sticking our necks out to comment on things, there wouldn’t be a blog. It is pretty easy to critize from the peanut gallery under an anonymous name. When are you going to come out of your black hole and man-up with an article under your real name. I am no fan of NAFTA and many other trade agreements because I don’t export or import. I have hired an all citizen picking crew, I made clear dangerous 18 wheelers will not pass inspection, and am a proponent of responsible wine drinking which is good for your health by the way. It certainly clear you could benefit from the Doctor recommended glass or two a day.

      (-1) 3 Total Votes - 1 up - 2 down
      • justme says:

        I’d only need to use my real name if I was selling something, like you. I’m already manned-up.

        (-1) 5 Total Votes - 2 up - 3 down

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