First U.S. truck crosses border into Mexico

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Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution, an El Paso, Texas-based trucking company, became the first-ever U.S. trucking company to haul a shipment across the U.S.-Mexico border. The truck went through the Nogales, Ariz. commercial border crossing Friday, Sept. 14, at about 9 a.m. local time on its way to Obregon, near Hermosillo, to deliver a load of plastic resin.

Last week, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced the start of a cross-border trucking demonstration project that would expand current border operations to allow up to 100 U.S. trucking companies to operate in Mexico and up to 100 Mexican trucking companies to operate beyond commercial zones in the United States.

“Today is historic,” said FMCSA Administrator John H. Hill. “We’re giving U.S. trucking companies the opportunity to compete in a new market that they have never before been allowed to penetrate. These opportunities will help reduce costs for American consumers and businesses while increasing trade efficiency at the border and maintaining safety on America’s highways.”

Thousands of Mexican commercial trucks operate every day in U.S. cities like San Diego and El Paso and last year made more than four million crossings into border commercial zones, which extend about 20-25 miles into the United States, according to FMCSA; U.S. commercial trucks, however, never have had the authority to operate in Mexico.

“This is an incredible opportunity for U.S.- and Mexican-domiciled carriers and will enhance the flow of trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada,” says Scott McLaughlin, president of Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution.

Stagecoach Cartage’s historic trip came three days after the U.S. Senate approved a proposal by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to prohibit the U.S. Transportation Department from spending money on the pilot program. Senate Amendment 2797, which passed by a 74-24 vote, is part of a transportation and housing spending bill that the Senate plans to vote on soon. The House of Representatives approved a similar provision to Dorgan’s on July 24 as part of its version of the transportation spending bill.

Transportes Olympic, a Mexican trucking company based in Nuevo Leon, on Sept. 8 became the first Mexican carrier to operate beyond U.S. commercial border zones as part of the demonstration project. The company delivered a load of steel to North Carolina, where it will be used to build a Baptist church.

The Teamsters and other critics of the program charge that it would allow trucks and drivers that do not meet American standards on the nation’s roads. Their complaints include that not enough inspectors exist to inspect every Mexican truck, lack of Mexican drug testing facilities and that Mexican trucks don’t meet U.S. safety standards. Also, they fear for American jobs, as Mexican truckers work far cheaper than their American counterparts.

The Bush administration says that conditions are adequate to launch the pilot program, which it says would allow the United States to meet its North American Free Trade Agreement commitments while making Mexican cargo shipments more efficient, both in terms of cost and time. President Bush has threatened to veto the transportation funding bill, partially because of the amendment to halt funding for the cross-border program.