Trucking provisions mandated by the NAFTA have yet to be implemented by the United States.

On October 10, 2014, the United States-Mexico Cross-Border Long-Haul Trucking Pilot Program came to a close after three years in operation, leading many to question: What’s next?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducted the program to evaluate the ability of Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate safely in the United States beyond the commercial zones surrounding the US-Mexico border, but no replacement program has been announced, thus far. However, the program should be understood in the broader context of a longstanding trucking dispute between Mexico and the US that traces its history back to the the time of the implementation of the NAFTA. In 1994.

Below is a general time line of events related to the US-Mexico Cross-Border Trucking Program:

  • 1994: NAFTA goes into effect, and the US is obligated to give Mexican commercial vehicles full access to transit in four US border states immediately, but fails to do so.
  • 2000: Under the US-Mexico Cross-Border Trucking Program, the US is required by the NAFTA to give Mexican commercial vehicles full access to all highways within the continental US, but fails to do so.
  • 2001: Canada mediates the dispute and finds the US in breach of its obligations under the NAFTA.  Mexico does not yet retaliate nor does the US alter the status quo; Mexican trucks are limited to a 25-mile commercial zone in US border states.
  • 2007: US launches the Cross Border Demonstration Project, a pilot trucking program granting a small number of Mexican trucks and truckers access to the heartland.
  • 2009: Newly elected US President Obama, with support of Congress, cancels the pilot program; Mexico retaliates with $2.4 billion in tariffs, and CANACAR, a private Mexican trade group representing 4,500 trucking companies, seeks $6 billion in compensation for losses.
  • 2011: In response, President Obama announces the implementation of a new pilot program, the US-Mexico Cross-Border Trucking Program, to expire on Oct. 10, 2014, but to open the way for full NAFTA compliance.

The Continuing Story

Now that the pilot US-Mexico Cross-Border Trucking Program has ended, industry leaders and the Mexican government are wondering what the next step will be. However, Federal officials are rather vague on that point, as of this writing. FMCSA spokeswoman, Marissa Padilla, assured critics that her agency is reviewing data from the program and pressing towards full NAFTA compliance, stating that they are “in the process of reviewing data from more than 5,000 truck and driver inspections with the goal of developing a path forward to ensure safety on our highway, while continuing to fulfill our NAFTA obligations.”

The aforementioned information that has been provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration isn’t specific enough for some, such as the Owner Operator Drivers Association, which represents independent owner-operators and small fleet truckers: “We’re simply asking the agency to provide some insight, tell us what you plan to do,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA. Critics also point to the relationship with Canada, and, subsequently, argue that it’s long past the time to afford Mexico the same NAFTA-mandated privileges. But as to how that will come about, the US government has yet to detail.