The Wasatch Behind: Keep on trucking, amigos
Recently, in a move that gained little notice by the press, President Bush authorized plans to let Mexican trucks and truckers have full access to U.S. highways beginning next year. American transportation secretary Maria Cino announced that the deal will be "a one-year NAFTA pilot program" to see how the plan works. What she means is: "We are going to see if we can get away with this."
Once again, our own government is compromising the interests, safety, and sovereignty of the American people.
As you might recall, NAFTA is the agreement we entered into a few years ago that is intended to turn all of North America into a single economy. The North American Free Trade Agreement, we are told, will eventually benefit all three partners: Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The deal was approved by Bush the first in 1992, signed by Clinton in 1994, and has been sucking the life out of our economy ever since. Untold thousands of our manufacturing jobs have gone to Mexico and China. Now it's time to ruin our transportation industry as well.
The deal with the trucks is so unfair and unpopular, that only now, as a lame duck president on his way out the door, has Bush number two had the courage to attempt to enact an agreement that was supposed to have been implemented by Clinton in 1995. Clinton caved-in under pressure from the teamsters and restricted the Mexican trucks to a 20-mile "commercial zone" along the border. Any cargo going north from that zone had to be carried on American trucks. It has been that way since '95.
Originally, the agreement called for a "NAFTA superhighway" across the continental U.S., a north/south trade corridor linking Mexico with Canada. The route, designated I-35, would begin in the Mexican drug capital of Nuevo Laredo and wind its way across the American heartland, passing through San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Duluth before terminating in Canada. Of course, the NAFTA superhighway would also provide easy access for Mexican truckers to transgress (that's right - transgress) the rest of our country, and it would be perfectly legal.
I'm with the teamsters on this one. The Teamsters Union is initiating a lawsuit to try to stop this insanity. We need to give them our full support. There are many reasons to oppose this.
First, there are economic reasons. The idea behind the NAFTA trucking agreement is that it will make goods cheaper and big business richer. If trucks can drive anywhere across our country from Mexico without unloading and transferring cargo, the costs will be less. And besides, Mexican drivers make about 25 percent of what a unionized American driver makes. But did Presidents Bush (plural) and Clinton consider that this deal would put thousands of American drivers out of work? Did they care?
Do you care?
Another issue is that most goods coming into the country on Mexican trucks will not be Mexican products, in spite of the stated intent of NAFTA. Mexico is building ports on her Pacific coast that will be run by state-controlled shipping companies from Red China (just like the Panama Canal). NAFTA was supposed to be a way to promote trade between Mexico and the U.S., but Mexico will primarily be a staging area and warehouse for Chinese goods. NAFTA takes away the tariffs on foreign goods from Mexico, and the items produced by the manufacturing jobs we lost to China can now be brought back into the country duty-free. This is a good deal for big business, the Chinese and the Mexicans. But what about us?
Another issue is safety. In 1997 (the last year I can find specific information) 3.5 million Mexican trucks crossed the American border. Of those, only 17,000 were stopped by U.S. officials for a safety inspection. Between 41 and 44 percent of those trucks failed the inspection (sources vary) and were taken out of service. By comparison, about 25 percent of American trucks fail the same inspection on any given year.
There is also the issue of Mexican drivers. They are not held to the same standards of health, training, and licensing as Americans. And I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of millions of 18-wheeler pilots on our freeways at 80-miles an hour who can't speak the language or read the road signs. Sometimes those warning signs are important.
And then, easy access cross-border trucking would be a smugglers and terrorists dream come true. What are our elected officials thinking? This can't be happening by accident or the usual government incompetence. Like the flood of illegal aliens pouring across our borders unchallenged, there has got to be method in this madness.
What is happening to my country?