NAFTA Truck Fiasco
September 2, 2011
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.