The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released plans Friday for a new pilot trucking project with Mexico "to test and demonstrate" the ability of Mexican truckers to operate safely within the U.S. beyond the border commercial zone.
The proposed pilot program, detailed in a 43-page Federal Register notice available on the FMCSA Web site, would allow Mexican truckers to operate within the U.S. for up to three years as long as they comply with all U.S. safety requirements.
Mexican carriers would proceed through a series of three stages during the program and could obtain permanent U.S. operating authority within 18 months. Carriers that participated in the previous pilot project would get credit for that time.
Mexico would have to grant U.S. truckers reciprocal rights south of the border before the program could be launched. Currently, four of the 10 U.S. motor carriers that participated in the last pilot project still operate in Mexico, the FMCSA said.
The proposal was hailed by business groups along the border and industries that have suffered from retaliatory tariffs amounting to $2.4 billion, which Mexico imposed in 2009 after the last cross-border trucking program was killed by Congress.
Independent truckers, the Teamsters union and consumer advocacy groups such as Public Citizen oppose giving Mexican truckers greater access to U.S. highways.
"This plan is irresponsible and reckless," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, who accused the DOT and Obama administration of "placating Mexico's government."
"The onus is on Mexico to raise the safety, security and environmental standards for their trucking industry," said Spencer. "We should not allow ourselves to be harassed or blackmailed into lowering ours," he said.
The Department of Transportation said it "does not propose to exempt or relieve Mexico-domiciled motor carriers from any safety regulation." Mexican carriers would have to pass DOT safety audits and comply with all U.S. laws and regulations.
"The proposed new program prioritizes safety, while satisfying the United States' international obligations" under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which included cross-border trucking with Mexico and Canada, the FMCSA said.