April 8, 2011 / 11:30 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. would permit Mexico trucks in 3-year program

* GPS would be required on Mexico trucks in U.S.

* Trucking firms would undergo safety, security checks

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON, April 8 (Reuters) - Long-haul trucks from Mexico would be allowed to operate throughout the United States for up to three years under a pilot plan aimed at reviving a politically sensitive trade program stalled for years.

The U.S. Transportation Department released a proposal on Friday outlining steps Mexican trucking firms would be required to follow to gain access to American roads beyond border areas where they currently are permitted to operate.

Labor groups who fear losing trucking jobs and their allies in Congress, some of who also opposed certain trade provisions, have for the better part of a decade blocked all but token efforts to put the trucking plan in place.

A previous pilot program ended in 2009 after Congress terminated funding.

Cross-border trucking was a key provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada that went into effect in 1994.

Business groups, including the biggest trucking firms, support efforts to restart the program, saying it will help re-establish normal trading patterns and increase the flow of goods.

Smaller heavy-duty truckers, however, fiercely oppose the plan on grounds it would hurt their operations - including lost business and new costs.

The Obama administration has worked to reopen the process as business-friendly Republicans gained new power and as some of the most ardent Democratic opponents are no longer in Congress or less influential.

Mexico has slapped duties on a list of U.S. products in response. Mexico is the second-largest export market for the United States and trucks handle more than 70 percent of trade with Mexico, according to trucking industry figures.

Among key requirements of the administration’s proposal included in a regulatory filing that will be scrutinized by Congress, Mexican trucks would be equipped with global positioning technology so their whereabouts could be monitored while in the United States.

Additionally under the proposed rule, each trucking company would have to carry insurance and every driver would be required to have a valid commercial license.

Their records would be approved by U.S. truck safety regulators.

Licenses would be checked in at least 50 percent of the trips across the border. Mexican trucks cross into the United States more than 4.5 million times annually.

Trucking companies and their drivers also would be reviewed by U.S. homeland security officials.

Trucks would be inspected each time they enter the United States for at least three months and undergo checks less frequently after that if authorities deemed the vehicle safe.

The proposal includes a 30-day comment period, after which regulators will decide when to implement the program. (Editing Xavier Briand)

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