MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - U.S. and Mexican officials pledged on Monday to set up a working group to resolve a trucking dispute, dampening hopes of a quick end to a spat that caused Mexico to slap duties on about $2.4 billion of U.S. exports more than a year ago.
“The countries will establish a working group to consider next steps of the cross-border trucking program,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and his Mexican counterpart, Juan Molinar, said in a joint statement after talks in the Mexican city of Monterrey near the Texas border.
In March, LaHood told U.S. lawmakers that President Barack Obama’s administration was “finalizing a plan” to resolve the trucking dispute.
But the establishment of a working group to mull over next steps for resolving the long-running dispute indicates a solution is still not in sight.
A U.S. Transportation Department spokesman said he had no information on who would serve on the working group or whether it faced a deadline for completing its work.
In their statement, Molinar and LaHood said resolving the spat was a matter of “highest priority.”
The United States agreed to open its market to Mexican trucks as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement that went into force in 1994, but the U.S. Teamsters union and many of its supporters in Congress have fought implementation of the pledge.
A year ago, Congress voted to cancel funding for a cross-border pilot program begun by former U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration that allowed Mexican long-haul trucks to circulate in the United States.
The move infuriated Mexico, which retaliated by imposing duties on U.S. exports, including fruit, vegetables and industrial goods worth an estimated $2.4 billion.
It was entitled to take that action under a 2001 NAFTA panel ruling on the trucking dispute in Mexico’s favor.
Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Vicki Allen