NAFTA renegotiation prepares to launch

By Sandi Soendker, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

U.S. NAFTA renegotiators want to hear from the people before wading into any changes to the 25-year old trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. The Office of the United States Trade Representative sought public comments last month on “matters relevant to the modernization” of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association submitted comments asking that Mexican-domiciled carriers be restricted to the border zone only.

In addition, a public hearing on NAFTA renegotiation was set for June 27 in Washington, D.C. OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer attended on behalf of the Association’s members. Spencer says NAFTA renegotiation has considerable implications for men and women truckers.

“Trucking was never key to this treaty in any way, shape or form,” says Spencer. “The original language simply talked about harmonizing the regulations between the NAFTA partners. But that harmonization never happened.

“If it had, given the U.S. is the biggest among the partners in terms of people and participants, it would have the U.S. setting the standards. Agreeing to our standards is something that Mexico has not been willing to do or interested in doing – obviously for a multitude of reasons.”

As evidenced by the Association’s two federal lawsuits that are still pending, Spencer says OOIDA is adamant that the cross-border Mexican truck program, which allows long-haul trucking beyond commercial zones, should be dropped from the program.

“The system we have that has been in place for years – trailers being swapped at the borders ­­– and has been going on with Mexico for years works well,” he says. “For economic reasons it doesn’t really work for Mexican trucks to cross the border and go too far beyond the commercial zones. That’s just acknowledging reality.

“Having said that, I doubt the proponents of opening the border have changed their minds. I’m talking about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and trucking’s biggest carriers that look at Mexico as an opportunity to tap into cheaper labor.”

Spencer says that people taking a fresh look at the issue right now will see that the U.S. is not a beneficiary of doing that.

“In reality, Mexican regulatory standards are not anywhere close to where they are for U.S. drivers. Our drivers have been dealing with a costly burden of regulations for years,” he says. “Mexican drivers are not willing to accept those rules. It does not make economic sense to them.”

Formal negotiations between U.S., Mexico and Canada could begin by late summer. LL