The US Department of Transport has said that 35 per cent of the Mexican trucks that entered the country last year were put out of service for significant safety violations. The implications of this ruling are of obvious concern to the apparel sector. 

There has been little question as to whether the Bush administration will reverse the Clinton administration's ban on Mexican trucks entering the United States, despite a commitment under NAFTA that access was to be expanded from border zones to all states by January 1, 2000.  

So it comes as no surprise that President George W Bush has taken the first step to ease the tensions by restating his position that free trade obligates the United States to open its highways to Mexican trucks. 

The Clinton administration, citing safety concerns, but also under pressure from unions representing US truckers, refused to implement the NAFTA provisions. That move, in turn, forced Mexico to close its borders to US over-the-road transport. 

A NAFTA dispute resolution panel, which was composed of two Americans, two Mexicans and a neutral member from the United Kingdom, ruled in February that keeping the trucks out violated NAFTA. 


"Bush is focused on ensuring that the American public does not share roadways with unsafe Mexican vehicles"

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said that Bush, in keeping with a view he outlined during the campaign, is committed to letting Mexican trucks into the United States and is focused on ensuring that the American public does not share roadways with unsafe Mexican vehicles.  

Buchan stated: "One thing I want to stress that is pointed out in the report is that the NAFTA rules in no way inhibit the United States' ability to set [its] own highway safety standards and the safety standards drivers must abide by. We have not made a decision on how to do it," she added, "but the report indicated that we may use our US highway safety standards." 

Mexican Deputy Transport Minister Aaron Dychter reported that 184 Mexican trucking firms have applied to transport cargo across the US border. He also noted that Mexico has now "harmonised" its safety standards to meet those of the United States. 

However, the US Department of Transportation said that 35 per cent of the Mexican trucks that entered the country last year were put out of service for significant safety violations. In contrast, Canada has a truck inspection programme similar to the US system, and its truckers are allowed access to all US roadways.  

Mexico has no such system. Given this situation, Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organisation, stressed that it is "imperative to continue to limit the access of dangerous Mexican trucks even if it means paying trade sanctions." 

On the other hand, there was positive reaction from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) - with a caveat. President


"ATA strongly believes that motor carriers operating in the United States, no matter what their nationality, must abide by US safety standards"
Walter McCormick Jr said: "ATA strongly believes that motor carriers operating in the United States, no matter what their nationality, must abide by US safety standards." 

At the other end of the spectrum, the US Chamber of Commerce hailed the panel's ruling. Thomas J Donohue, president and CEO, stated: "This ruling is an important step forward. NAFTA has been a tremendous success, doubling our trade with Mexico in the past five years." 

By Jules Abend.