CARRIERS OPPOSE CLINTON'S PLAN TO PASS ON COST OF TARIFF CUTS

CARRIERS OPPOSE CLINTON'S PLAN TO PASS ON COST OF TARIFF CUTS

The Clinton administration is pushing a proposal that would require the transportation industry to pay for tariff cuts required by the North American free-trade agreement, U.S. officials said.

The administration is proposing to double transportation fees collected for trade in North America and travel to the United States from all countries to help defray that cost, these officials said.The plan, reported in the newsletter Congress Daily, has the backing of the Treasury Department and Office of Management and Budget but is likely to be controversial on Capitol Hill and be bitterly opposed by U.S. carriers.

According to estimates, eliminating tariffs for imports from Mexico under Nafta will cost the U.S. Treasury about $2.5 billion over five years. Strict budget rules do not allow consideration of increased taxes from expanded exports to Mexico.

The proposal would double the conveyance fee paid by rail and truck traffic in North America and the passenger processing fee paid for all those entering the United States by ship or air. The suspension of this passenger fee for travel in North America and the Caribbean would be revoked, U.S. officials said.

The proposal has angered transportation lobbyists.

"If these fees are going to be borne by the airline industry, definitely we will have to reconsider our position on the Nafta," said Ed Merlis, senior vice president-external affairs, for the Air Transport Association.

He estimated that the government would raise $600 million by eliminating exemptions to transborder agricultural and customs fees and doubling immigration fees.

Kenneth Simonson, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations, said customs now charges a $5 fee to check each vehicle crossing the borders. The fee pays for the time spent by customs inspectors to check paperwork and interact with the driver, Mr. Simonson said.