MEXICO CITY — U.S. and Mexican officials Wednesday resolved a cross-border long-haul trucking dispute that will lift punitive tariffs on about $2.4 billion in U.S. products.
Under the agreement, which ends a nearly two-decade ban on Mexican trucks entering the United States, Mexico will halve the punitive customs duties within the next 10 days and remove the rest by the end of the summer.
"The agreements signed today are a win for roadway safety and they are a win for trade," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
The accord resolves a gamut of roadway safety issues between the United States and Mexico, its third-largest trading partner. Under new rules, Mexican trucks must carry electronic monitoring systems to track hours of service and routes. Drivers must undergo tests of their ability to understand English and read U.S. traffic signs. They also must take regular drug tests and allow inspection of their driving records.
Mexican trucks won't be allowed to deliver freight between points within the United States. U.S. trucks will operate under the same rules within Mexico.
Mexico's punitive tariffs, imposed more than two years ago and ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent, affected numerous U.S. agricultural products and manufactured goods, including apples, pork and personal care products.
The agreement calls for Mexico to halve the tariffs on 99 U.S. products within the next 10 days. The remaining punitive tariffs will be eliminated later this summer, five days after the Transportation Department certifies the first Mexican carrier to participate in the trucking program.
"Potentially, we're looking at a total lifting of the punitive tariffs in as little as 45 days," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
U.S. agricultural exports, which support 1.1 million jobs, have been strong this year, up 25 percent to Mexico already, Vilsack said. Mexico bought $14.5 billion in U.S. farm products last year.
"For U.S. farmers and ranchers, the lifting of these tariffs means jobs and fiscal relief — lifting constraints on American products, removing barriers to trade with a key trading partner and putting Americans back to work at a time when U.S. agriculture is setting record export figures," Vilsack said.
Texas was particularly hard hit by Mexico's punitive tariffs, which affected $190 million in Texas agricultural products, including pork, wine, peanuts, onions and other commodities.
"For too long, Texas farmers, ranchers and consumers have paid the price for long-standing trade disputes between our two countries," Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples said. "This agreement is another step forward in a mutually beneficial partnership."
An independent truckers group based near Kansas City, Mo., however, fumed over the agreement, saying the public wasn't properly informed of its final details.
"If the agreement is good for the U.S., why the hell is he (Secretary LaHood) sneaking down there to sign it?" said Jim Johnston, the president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which has more than 151,000 members. "So much for their supposed transparency. Why not let the public see the details before signing the agreement?"
LaHood said the Obama administration had addressed "a broad range of concerns" from lawmakers, safety advocates, industry representatives and others since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued its proposal in April.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
McClatchy Newspapers 2011