ATA supports NAFTA pilot program, raises concerns

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Cross Border Trucking

In comments filed Friday, May 13, the American Trucking Associations said it supported the efforts of the Obama administration to implement the cross-border trucking provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but called on regulators to address several concerns with the proposal.

“ATA has long viewed free trade as an important tool in improving our country’s economic growth and has been a strong supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement,” ATA Vice President of Security and Operations Martin Rojas wrote in comments filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “ATA commends the efforts by FMCSA to develop and implement a NAFTA pilot program for cross-border trucking.”

While ATA supports FMCSA’s efforts to streamline cross-border trade between the United States and Mexico, Rojas expressed a number of concerns about the agency’s proposed program, including a proposal for the government to purchase electronic onboard recorders for Mexican carriers and how the United States and Mexico will ensure fair and equal access to Mexico for American carriers.

The pilot program, part of FMCSA’s implementation of the NAFTA cross-border long-haul trucking provisions, would allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate throughout the United States for up to three years, while U.S.-domiciled motor carriers would be granted reciprocal rights to operate in Mexico for the same period. Participating Mexican carriers and drivers would be required to comply with all applicable U.S. laws and regulations, including those concerned with motor carrier safety, customs, immigration, vehicle registration and taxation, and fuel taxation. The safety of the participating carriers would be tracked closely by FMCSA with input from a federal advisory committee.

Mexico-domiciled carriers that receive provisional authority from FMCSA and earn a satisfactory rating after a compliance review, complete at least 18 months of operation and have no pending enforcement or safety improvement actions would be eligible for permanent authority in the program. A Mexico-domiciled motor carrier that participated in the 2007-2009 demonstration project and operated under provisional operating authority in the earlier pilot would receive credit for the amount of time it operated under authority.

Mexico-domiciled carriers in the program would have to maintain a certificate of insurance or surety bond on file with FMCSA that would be underwritten by a U.S. insurance or surety bond company. The motor carrier also would be required to maintain a valid Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance decal on each vehicle it enrolls in the program, and any vehicle with a diesel engine would be required to have an emissions control label. FMCSA would pay as much as $2.5 million from the federal Highway Trust Fund to equip Mexican trucks with electronic data recorders.

A driver would not be allowed to participate in the program unless he or she could read and speak the English language sufficiently to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, respond to official inquiries and make entries on reports and records required by FMCSA. Any vehicle used by a carrier in the program would be required to display a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards certification label or Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard certification label affixed by the original vehicle manufacturer at the time the vehicle was built.

Mexico-domiciled carriers also would be subject to Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation cabotage requirements and would be prohibited from providing domestic point-to-point transportation while operating in the United States.

The initial pilot project sought 100 carriers each from Mexico and the United States to participate, but the program failed to get sufficient participation to form statistically valid conclusions. FMCSA said that a sample size of 4,100 roadside inspections performed on the new pilot program participants will allow the agency to detect differences in violation rates of 2 percentage points or greater with a 90 percent confidence level.

The agency anticipates an average of one long-haul border crossing per week per truck with each Mexican carrier having two trucks participating in the program. It assumes an attrition rate of 25 percent after 18 months in the project and calculates 46 carriers will suffice to achieve a target of 4,100 inspections within three years. If participants don’t achieve this level of activity, more carries will be required. If the carriers have more crossings than anticipated, then fewer carriers will be needed.

The U.S. and Mexican governments on March 3 announced an agreement in principle to implement the long-delayed NAFTA cross-border trucking provisions. Mexico is the second-largest export market for the United States, and the American Trucking Associations says it is hopeful that the lifting of the retaliatory tariffs that were imposed after a previous cross-border trucking pilot program was abolished by Congress in 2009 will help the two countries resume more normal trading patterns and increase the flow of commerce between the two countries.