The Tale of Cross-Border Trucking

March 9, 2007
By Michelle Kelley

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New pilot program to allow Mexican trucking companies into U.S. for the first time since 1982.

It’s a saga that stretches all the way back to the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992. It’s the tale of U.S.-Mexico cross-border trucking and a new pilot program that may finally put this delayed NAFTA provision into motion.

Announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in late February, this new pilot project will allow 100 Mexican motor carriers to make deliveries to any city within the U.S.

Currently, Mexican trucks are only allowed 20 miles beyond the U.S.-Mexico border. Once they cross the border, Mexican truckers are required to stop and wait to transfer the cargo to a U.S. truck. Traders claim that this process is both costly (as Mexican trucks are idling while waiting to transfer cargo) and time consuming.

To ensure Mexican carriers meet all U.S. safety requirements, DOT inspectors will be assessing the fitness of each participating company, examining trucks, checking licenses and driving records, and verifying that drivers and their employers are insured by companies licensed in the U.S.

Mexican carriers that participate must also abide by certain restrictions. They will not be allowed to operate within the U.S. as a domestic shipper (international pickup and delivery only), haul hazardous materials, or transport passengers.

The DOT says that the first trucks participating in the pilot project will cross the border at the beginning of April. Once the program ends, both the U.S. and Mexico will review the project and decide whether to expand the program to additional trucking companies.


So if U.S.-Mexico cross border trucking was a provision of NAFTA, why hasn’t it been implemented until now? To understand this, we need to go all the way back to 1982, the year Congress passed the Business Regulatory Reform Act, which implemented a moratorium on U.S.-Mexico cross-border trucking beyond 20 miles of the border. Previously, Mexican trucks were allowed unrestricted access to U.S. roads.

Timeline of U.S.-Mexico Cross-Border Trucking

Congress passes the Business Regulatory Reform Act, banning Mexican trucks from operating beyond 20 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S., Mexico, and Canada sign NAFTA.
Annex I of NAFTA: U.S. must allow Mexican trucks into border states (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas) by December 1995, and the complete United States by January 2000 (i.e. the U.S. must phase out the moratorium on cross-border trucking).

President Clinton issues a Presidential Order postponing implementation of NAFTA cross-border trucking provision (Annex I).

NAFTA Arbitral Panel (the primary panel for conflict resolution) unanimously agrees that the U.S. moratorium is inconsistent with NAFTA treaty law (as the U.S. allows Canadian motor carriers unrestricted access to roads).

President George W. Bush pledges to allow Mexican carriers access to the complete United States by January 2002 (provided that the concerns of safety advocates are addressed).

Congress passes Section 350 of the DOT Appropriations Act, prohibiting the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from funding the review of applications for cross-border trucking authority until it has issued tougher regulations for applicants and safety monitoring.

The FMSCA issues its new regulations. Environment and labor groups immediately file suit against the FMSCA for failing to issue a full Environmental Impact Statement–as required by law under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Clean Air Act (CAA).

President Bush lifts the moratorium on cross-border trucking.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rules against the FMSCA for failing to comply with NEPA and CAA.

The U.S. Supreme Court reverses the 9th Circuit Court ruling of January 2003, finding that the FMSCA has no authority to prevent cross border trucking operations by Mexican motor carriers on the basis of their emissions, nor is the FMSCA required to issue a full Environmental Impact Statement. DOT and Mexican government immediately begin planning for the implementation of cross-border trucking.

U.S. Department of Transportation announces implementation of U.S.-Mexico cross-border trucking pilot project.