NAFTA Truck Fiasco

September 2, 2011

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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I guess that hiring US truckers to deliver the tomatoes from Mexico straight to the stores just wasn’t acceptable? It was cheaper to rent warehouses and unload the trailers an extra time? The story Mr. Salisbury tells doesn’t make sense.

Most bulk produce is always taken to a warehouse to have the load divided up between customers. Not many customers want a whole truckload of tomatoes or 20 truckloads of tomatoes.

As far as mandatory truck inspections near the borders are concerned, the resulting citations would show whether the inspection was warranted or not. If there were a lot of trucks being turned back for serious safety infractions, it would appear that the inspections were justified.

I’m not a fan of NAFTA. Each individual country should be able to control tariffs to support the health of their own industries. It doesn’t make sense to let someone else dictate our trade agreements.

I neglected to notice that Mr. Salisbury was talking about the system before NAFTA was implemented. So my response was off target.

I still don’t like NAFTA. It is good for businesses which depend on exports and imports, but not for people who create products locally and sell them locally.

I don’t know enough to have an opinion about whether Mexican trucks are physically and environmentally safe or not, or whether their drivers are skilled enough, or what the potential is for illicit substances to be hauled.

What I do know is that if you make an agreement, you abide by that agreement. If you have reservations about the requirements, you work those out before you finalize that agreement. If you have problems with the agreement, you cancel it, so that both sides are relieved of the obligations. The U.S. has a really REALLY bad track record with this very simple concept.

John: Did it ever occur to you that the reason that the Teamsters didn’t object to Canadian trucks and truck drivers is because their trucks and drivers are already equipped to be on American roads? The condition of Mexican trucks in the past was not even disputed; you say that all of the trucks from Mexico that are supposed to be coming here will be up to snuff, and you place your faith in our truck inspections, which are supposed to be very good, but how many will get through anyway that don’t meet the requirements? Your assumption that the Teamsters are only concerned about unionizing the drivers is an attempt to slam them without consideration for the possibility that they “might be” concerned about the safety of having trucks and drivers on our roads that could be danger to society at large. Your assertion looks a lot like someone who is desperate to get people to agree with their concern by clouding the real problem(s). Our (the U.S.) agreement on NAFTA should be abandoned, we should also withdraw from the WTO, and stop participating with the World Bank and IMF as well. None of these organizations or “treaties” have America’s best interest at heart and, IMO, we shouldn’t be taking part in anything with them.

In 2008 DOT’s inspections of trucks that received an “out of service” citation (meaning they did not comply with all safety regulations) all US carriers had a rate of 21.6%, Mexican carriers 20.7% (in the border zone), and Mexican carriers in the pilot program that allowed them to travel throughout the USA had only 7.3%. Who would you rather be driving next to? Agreed that we might be on the short end of the stiicki with many of our Treaties.

So one out of five trucks usually fails the inspection, no matter which nationality of carrier is selected. With the exception of the specific trucks that were chosen for the pilot program? It looks to me that truck inspections are an important part of our transportation system.

It looks like only one of you might drive truck at times, you need to be on the road a little more, the DOT around here can not write of the mexicans for the speak english rule, why because Ca didn’t adopt it, half the time they don’t pull the mexis over for inspections, why because it a racial thing this comes from Sacramento, so letting them in this country is not a good idea, yeah yeah yeah, so they are susposed to be able to re d and speak the english language, who’s gonna enforce that, the border checks can’t inspect this junk and dope haulers fast enough. Salisbury whats your stake in this what the hell do you care for.

I no longer have a stake in this because I am not in Mexico anymore. Having to carry a pistol with me all day and almost kidnapped on two occasions made moving my operation to SLO seemed like a good idea and that was 17 years ago. I wouldn’t go back where I was now without Seal Team 6! My only point, backed up by mkaney, is we made a deal and didn’t come through. At the time when in Mexico, it would have been nice to have an American truck pick up my tomatoes and not have to be held up for two days at the border. As for speaking the language, how many gringos speak Spanish in Mexico when traveling and they seem to get along alright. Heck, for that matter, how many drivers in California and the Southwest speak English?

American trucking in Mexico is a problem, as is Mexican trucking. From Lifeline (a trucking industry publication):

“According to TSA, criminals in Mexico hijacked more than 10,000 commercial trucks last year

The hard statistic gives a rare glimpse into the world of cargo theft in Mexico. News about that world typically is spread in anecdotal snapshots.

Big shippers, chambers of commerce, and others who back cross-border trucking have argued that allowing Mexican trucks throughout the U.S. will lead to increased efficiencies and partnerships between business interests from Central America to Canada.

As it turns out, few may benefit more from existing cross-border trucking than violent drug cartels, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Drug cartels and other highly organized criminal groups could be able to circumvent American border security by “cloning” trucks that have clearance through programs like the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and Free and Secure Trade (FAST), according to a recently released TSA report originally written last fall.”

When NAFTA first allowed the Mexican trucks first to enter the US. The C.H.P set up a truck inspection check point and almost every Mexican truck was stopped and forced to make emergency repairs or turn around and return immediately to Mexico. Each time the trucks were allowed to resume by NAFTA the same scenario was repeated. Mexico even fought to have the CHP disband it’s truck safety check points claiming it was a violation of NAFTA. We will never know how many lives were saved by the CHP enforcing state commercial trucking laws on NAFTA trucks. We will never know how many millions of dollars in accident damages that have been saved by the inspections.

What a bunch of crap.

So it’s unions that are the problem? Yet Germany has 40% unionized employees, with only 66 million people, and exports more than US?

This race to the bottom by the “vast right wing conspiracy” is true, to enrich the top 1% against the benefits of the bottom 90% of US.

I know, the CONservatives can’t wait until we start looking more like Texas, with the most min wage jobs (almost 10%) and 1 out of 4 living in poverty, among the highest uninsured on kids and adults, high school dropout rates, kids having kids, domestic violence (poverty breeds it), yes, let race to meet Mexico at the bottom.

It’s funny to listen to”farmers” who want to tell US how “free trade” will help US. From 1950-1980 the bottom 90% of US grew our incomes by 75%, next 28 years? 1%. We were at the highest with unionized employees at those earlier years, yet the top 1% was able to triple their “share” of incomes, while paying about half the old percentage did. Hmm

“Ah, politics – you gotta love it.”

Well apparently you love the Heritage Foundations and other right wings talking points Bubba! Forget that nothing else Milton Friedman said came true (Chile/SS?), let’s just give “free trade” more time, lol

There is not one example of “laize affair” capitalism EVER working in the history of the world!

OK, first off this was not a anti-union rant and certainly not from a right wing ideology – just my own experience. Heck, our family allowed our fruit packing shed operation to be one of the first in Northern California to unionize back in the 60’s and it still is with a great working labor relationship. In this case, the union’s position was against Mexico trucks but not Canada because they can unionize those truckers. This was selective to supposedly protect their self interest. Which confuses me because of all the opportunities of our trucks going down into Mexico and into Canada and pick up much of the goods with two of our largest trading partners. I don’t think they thought this through because it sounded like a job creator to me for union truckers.

Sure Bubba, “free trade” is WONDERFUL for the race to the bottom AND if you enjoy ALL benefits going to the top 1/10th of 1% of US.

I think they thought “free trade” through thoroughly, how do you compete against people working at $2 an hour? $2 a day?

The US used Alexander Hamilton’s economic plan from 1791-1970’s when they jumped onto Milton Friedman’s “theory” of free trade, how did the bottom 90% of US do before we accepted “globalization” and since? Part of his plan was protectionism, when we CHOSE to go to globalization and lifted tariffs that were 10%-15% average from 1791-1960’s, we did pretty well as a society. Today as the tariff is about 2%, the bottom 90% of US? Not so much!

“it sounded like a job creator”

Perhaps at $3.00 per hour?

The right wings race to the bottom continues!

JohnnyB: :Nothing in my article is for Free Trade, right wing, whatever so don’t get on me about it It is specific to the trucking regulations that was part of NAFTA. Personally I don’t profit one bit from NAFTA our any other trade agreement although when I was down in Mexico it would have save me a bunch of dough at the border if the trucking was allowed. I would have definitely used US trucks and give them a nice back haul.

. When I was a kid we ate fruits and vegetable while in season and had to wait another year for the next crop. Now you get stuff shipped in year around from outside the US and believe me it is nothing like what we grow under our strict food regulations. I can tell you horror stories of what goes on in Mexico. But you still eat those winter vegetables thanks to Free Trade. The influx of imported food year around, because you want it, kills a lot of our local produce sales because they often crowd into our seasons.

Anyway, you guys quit lumping all farmers in as right wing nutjobs who mistreat on our farm workers who we work with side by side and are part of the family. It makes no sense to treat our employees badly because they will leave and you have to start all over again. Most of the farmers I know have had families work for them for years. My top four guys have been with me for 16 years. Do you think they would be sticking around if I they weren’t treated with respect. Nough said.. I got to go out and set the irrigation for the night while you have your feet up in front of the tube.. Hope you are having a glass of wine!

I have a family member that has family farms in Santa Maria, Lompoc and Guadalupe. He treats his farm workers very well and they come back to him year after year. He also pays quite well. Unfortunately he’s very right wing but he’s not a nut job and he’s a great guy and that’s coming from a bleeding heart.

I agree with your views on NAFTA, it’s not what I believe it was originally designed to be.

I don’t understand why all my fruit is from Mexico or South America and I hate the idea of what they are doing to this produce.

I saw a special on TV a few months ago, it showed a Mexican citizen living in Mexico crossing the border each and every day to drive a truck, the catch? They can pay him a lot less then a American driver and he still makes more then if he worked for a Mexican company all while living in cheap Mexico. There is no way American trucks can compete with Mexico’s,

1 Million Safety Violations Won’t Keep Mexican Trucks Out Of U.S.

Who’s going to police it, John?

Your farming experience in Culican Plain surely showed you that Mexican law and the law enforced are two very different things.

For example, the reason it’s so much easier to grow organically in Mexico is because you can buy the certification and the certifiers.

I would have zero faith in a safety inspection performed in MX being performed to CA standards. Ditto with our ridiculous CARB compliance issues.

Which means the trucks are going to need to be recert’d at each scale. Who pays for that? Do I have to hire more bi-lingual smog cops? Do they get a free ride?

Many US truckers either refuse or cannot drive in CA because they can’t/won’t meet our safety/smog/log requirements. It doesn’t pencil for them to buy/maintain california-compliant equipment unless the bulk of their business is here.

How are the MX truckers going to overcome that? Are they going to install $8000 CARB-compliant refer units on their $3000 trailers? Are they going to retrofit $10K nitrogen kits on their $5K trucks? No. They are going to get their certifications done in grey market areas and game our system for their profit.

I can’t stand the union, and try to come down on the other side of whatever issue they bring up, but they are right on this one. Kumbayah.

Hey, I am with you on our CARB requirements. I have a couple of those old trucks I only use during a few weeks at harvest that I am going to have to junk because of the cost of retrofitting. It is my understanding the Mexican drivers have to be certified on this side of the border. Also, if they come into California they are going to have play by the rules and if they go the grey route then I hope they get nailed. Having personally been through many inspection stations and to my detriment a couple of times, I have faith in the inspectors because they know all the tricks and plenty are bilingual. It is not going to be a cake-walk for the Mexicans because of the spotlight on them and the controversy.

As for organic in Mexico and organic here, you are right. One of the reasons I went 95% organic here was because of my experience in Mexico watching what my neighboring farmers where doing to the crops. It made a believer out of me to do the right thing. No question all certifications for produce and trucks need to be on this side of the border. Thanks for your comments.

From my personnel experience, coming back across the border at Del Rio, Texas, I was stuck behind an 18 wheeler Mexican truck that was “inspected”, started up and then couldn’t stop, rolled through the stop sign and into the highway and ended up blocking two lanes of a two lane highway. So much for the great inspectors all along the border and all the safety precautions that will be in place in the future.

Ten to one it was just a border zone truck getting a fruit inspection and not a vehicle inspection. Probably only delivered to a warehouse where the restrictions are lax as compared to what happens if they go beyond the border. Still not a good thing and yes I know full well about the clunkers in Mexico having to had dodge them more than once, The only good thing about them is getting behind one of them at night to clear out the cows.

Judging off the condition of the “Pemex” (Fuel) trucks and buses running around south of the border I’ll pass on the thought Mexican trucks are safer than ours. Ive yet to see one that didn’t look like its fresh off a Mad Max movie set. So you load up a truck south of the border in a farm field and were supposed to assume somewhere between here and there it wasn’t offloaded and partially filled with drugs and sent on its way? nahhh, never happen, after all that would be to cleaver or labor intensive.

As far as boosting profits and undercutting the American competition Im sure you can find a coyote to bring you a few dozen immigrant workers on a Panga, you know like the one they just found on the beach in Santa Barbara.

rallyraid: See my other replys. Those Mad Max trucks south of the border we all know and love don’t a prayer of crossing the border.

Dear John:

The US has certainly stonewalled on the NAFTA agreement that should never have been made. Mexico cannot and will not enforce their own regulations. The Mexican trucks are not safe, Mexican drivers are not held to the same safety requirements as US truck drivers (no. of hours driving, no drugs, ability to read English road signs, pollution guards on trucks, etc.) Mexico has been working on correcting these problems, but only because they have not been allowed to freely roam the US.

It was California who most objected to the Mexican trucks, saying that pollution levels in the San Diego/LA area would skyrocket, and that problems with Mexican trucks breaking down on the freeways would disrupt traffic. As we all know, when a Mexican truck breaks down, the truck is left in the middle of the road and the driver runs. The local US jurisdiction would have to pay to remove the truck and fine? a company in another country. Yeh, right.

Until Mexico can show that their trucks will be in good repair, will not be spewing contaminants, will not be used for smuggling drugs and people, can follow the US rules and regulation, they are a danger to us. Once Mexico meets the standards we impose on our own trucking industry, then they should be allowed within the US.

Beg to differ, Citizen. I personally used the Mexican trucks that were to be allowed into the US. There were all new and the drivers as professional as any I have ever run. I used to have 25 trucks that hauled ag produce and casegoods up and down the State, so I have a little experience.

The trucks you are talking about would never get past the tough inspection stations set up north of the border let alone the commercial CHP on the road. US DOT will require electronic monitoring systems that tract how long the trucks are in service. Drivers will have to pass safety reviews, drug tests, and assessments of their English language and US sign reading skills and other skill requirements before being allowed on our roads. Mexico is going to require the same of our truckers. The hype against the Mexican trucks is nonsense because the ones you are talking about are not the ones that will be allowed across the border. As for smuggling, that is whole different matter that has to do with our border inspection problems irregardless who is doing the trucking.

Beg to differ, John. You have experience along the California border, and I don’t doubt your experience, but we are also talking about Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.

Google “Mexican trucks safety” and you will start seeing the problems. “Lawmakers are outraged that the federal administration intends to use taxpayer money to install safety devices on Mexican trucks. There are plans to install onboard recorders in Mexican trucks to make sure that drivers do not drive beyond the maximum allowed hours. However, these devices would be paid for by taxpayer money, and that is something that many lawmakers will not take kindly to.

Atlanta truck accident lawyers don’t believe that our trucking inspection and safety programs are sophisticated enough to prevent unsafe Mexican trucks from coming through the border, or even monitoring their safety while they are on American highways”.

There are also many places trucks can come across the border and avoid inspection. Meanwhile, El Paso found over 1,000,000 violations for Mexican trucks in the past few years.

You are talking about safety regulations on trucks and drivers that will be implemented by our government. “Will be” is the key. Are you sure that they “will be” when taxpayers are required to pay for these regulations?

Knowing the Mexican government, they will not be enforcing safety or pollution controls–they don’t have the money or infrastructure to do this. Besides, their government works on the basis of pay offs not enforcing regulations.