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Cheap lettuce and trucking accidents

Of the many provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed in 1994 was one granting Mexican and Canadian truckers the right to carry goods into and out of the United States. After seventeen years of delays and disagreements, the provision might finally take effect despite continued concerns over funding and trucking safety. President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon came to an agreement in March that will allow Mexican truckers to apply for permits after meeting certain requirements.

One of the concerns that led to the long delay was over the safety standards used in the Mexican trucking industry. The applicable provision of NAFTA states that Mexican trucks and truck drivers must comply with American safety standards. That language was not enough to stop Bill Clinton from preventing Mexican trucks to cross the border starting in 1995, citing safety as his justification. It is not clear if those safety concerns have been addressed.

Currently, semi-trucks and their drivers are subject to numerous safety rules. These rules range from drug and alcohol testing requirements to restrictions on the hours of service a driver can complete in a given time period. It is not clear whether U.S. officials will be able to enforce similar restrictions on Mexican trucking companies and truck drivers. The agreement does include the additional safety measure of using electronic monitoring devices on Mexican trucks to ensure that the drivers are taking regular breaks.

The new agreement may have been forced by the tariffs on agricultural goods imposed by Mexico in 2009 in response to the violation of the NAFTA agreement. Mexico agreed to first reduce then ultimately eliminate these tariffs in exchange for the trucking rights. The reduction in tariffs will do little for individuals who are injured or killed in a truck accident. Hopefully, the safeguards put in place under the new agreement will be enough to protect the driving public.

Source: The New York Times, "U.S. and Mexico Sign Trucking Deal," Binyamin Appelbaum, 6 July, 2011

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