MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ROBERT SMITH, host:
And I'm Robert Smith.
Starting today, that semi-truck beside you on the highway could be from Mexico. After years of political fights, a small number of Mexican trucks can now cross the border and drive anywhere in the U.S. to drop off cargo. U.S. truckers will be allowed the same privileges in Mexico.
Here with us now is NPR's Scott Horsley in San Diego.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Robert.
SMITH: This pilot program comes as part of the NAFTA agreement that was signed in the 1990s. What took them so long to start the trucks rolling?
HORSLEY: You know, it's ironic, Robert. Thanks to NAFTA, there's been this huge explosion in the volume of cargo moving back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border. But the trucks that carry that cargo have until now been an exception to the agreement.
It wasn't supposed to be that way. Trucks were supposed to get passage years ago, but there has been roadblock after roadblock dating back to the Clinton administration.
The Bush administration renewed their push in February, announcing this pilot program. It was expected to launch in 60 days. Obviously it's taken longer than that. There's been congressional opposition. There was a lawsuit. Even as late as yesterday, there were false starts.
Finally, last night about 6:00 o'clock Pacific Time, the Department of Transportation announced Mexico had given the green light to the first American truck and the U.S. had done the same on this side of the border.
SMITH: Has a Mexican truck actually driven over the border and into the United States or we're still waiting for that?
HORSLEY: We're still waiting for that. We think it could happen really any day now. But there's been so much - so many fits and starts to this program, I think everyone is taking kind of I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it attitude, including the customers.
So it was expected to take a day or two for the Mexican truck to line up customers here in the U.S.
SMITH: Well, some U.S. lawmakers and Teamsters have been fighting this move. What's their problem with Mexican trucks on U.S. highways?
HORSLEY: The Teamsters had a rally at the border here in San Diego yesterday. They were warning that the Mexican trucks will not be safe. Oddly enough, they held a rally just outside one of the many border inspection stations the U.S. has set up to ensure the trucks are safe.
The transportation department said these trucks will be checked out from headlight to tailgate and re-inspected every three months. I daresay these will be the most heavily scrutinized semi-trucks anywhere on the roads in the U.S.
The other worry, as Teamsters executive Randy Cammack admits, is purely economic. Every Mexican truck driver on the U.S. interstate is a little blow against Teamsters job security.
Mr. RANDY CAMMACK (International Brotherhood of Teamsters): That one truck will cost an American worker a job that he has today because the Mexican driver - they can take him anywhere and replacing the American worker.
SMITH: Well, for years trucks have been allowed to come over from Canada under NAFTA. Has there been any impact from Canadian truckers on U.S. highways?
HORSLEY: Not only have Canadian trucks have been able to come across the border, but in fact Mexico trucks had been crossing into the U.S. for years. They are allowed to travel within this narrow commercial zone, 20 to 25 miles from the border. That includes the city of San Diego, and there's been no evidence of carnage along our roadways here because of Mexican trucks.
SMITH: Well, this is a one-year pilot program allowing these Mexican trucks to go anywhere in the United States. What will they be looking for to see if it's successful?
HORSLEY: Well, that's right. It's up to a 100 Mexican trucking companies, probably on the order of 600 or so Mexican trucks. And they will ramp up to that total between now and December. Over the course of the year, I think the U.S. government hopes to show both that those trucks can operate safely within the U.S., that the federal regulators have the manpower necessary to do the inspections, and also that U.S. trucks will have access to Mexico and U.S. trucking companies will benefit from that cross-border trade.
SMITH: NPR's Scott Horsley in San Diego. Thanks, Scott.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.
BRAND: Joining us now is Fernando Payez(ph). He's the president of Transportez Olympic(ph). That's a trucking company based in Monterey, Mexico.
Welcome to the program, Mr. Payez.
Mr. FERNANDO PAYEZ (President, Transportez Olympic): How are you?
BRAND: I'm fine, thank you. How many trucks are you planning to send into the United States?
Mr. PAYEZ: Well, we're planning on starting out with two trucks for this new pilot program. And you know, slowly take it from there, depending on how things go.
BRAND: Well, as our reporter Scott Horsley just mentioned, there have been protests on this side of the border by Teamsters, by truckers who don't want you coming. How do you feel about that?
Mr. PAYEZ: Well, I think that this was something that was going to be coming one day or another. Basically I think if it was not us, it was going to be somebody else, and this is something that we actually have not decided. We haven't made the rule.
We're just basically subscribing ourselves to the program and we were just basically lucky enough to be the first one to be granted this authority. So we're happy about that and I can tell them that - in general, the American public - that we are going to be complying and being as safe as we can be and as safe as any other American carrier.
BRAND: There are also worries that you're not as heavily regulated. The industry in Mexico is not as heavily regulated as it is here, that truckers will be working long hours and becoming over-tired and perhaps posing a danger on the interstates.
Mr. PAYEZ: Yes, but that really is not right. I can assure you one thing, that if they granted the authority to us, it's because they've really checked all our information, all of our driver files to make sure that we're complying. Of course we have all the drug tests that we need to have in place. And we know what the rules are and we're going to be complying. We're just, you know, trying to work, trying to provide a service and do it as safely as we can.
BRAND: Fernando Payez, president of Transportez Olympic, a trucking company based in Mexico. Thank you very much.
Mr. PAYEZ: Thank you.
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