President George W. Bush and Congress appear on a collision course regarding Mexican trucking access to the United States - labor unions are concerned about loss of jobs, and U.S. citizens are concerned about vehicle safety and infrastructure capacity. And yet there is no doubt that increasing trade has caused an economic boon for the two countries.
Still, these conflicts may be signs of a rocky road ahead for the proposed NAFTA highway - which will accelerate trade by increasing access from the U.S-Mexico border to America's heartland.
That is just one issue that will be addressed by Secretary of Transportation Norman I. Mineta and other high-ranking officials from both sides of the border at the U.S.-Mexico Border Summit, Aug. 22-24 at The University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.
The Summit will help pave the way for these and other issues that impact the border by bringing leaders from both sides together to look at solutions, said Roland S. Arriola, vice president for External Affairs at the University.
While the Summit will focus on the entire U.S.-Mexico border, in Texas alone there are approximately 205,000 vehicles and 97,000 pedestrians crossing the border every day.
Twelve-thousand trucks transporting goods manufactured in Texas and the United States valued at $290 million crisscross the Texas and Mexico ports of entry and border commercial zones daily, based on U.S. Department of Transportation figures. NAFTA-related traffic now accounts for about 16 percent of all Texas truck travel.
Further, data from the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development shows commercial truck crossings from Mexico over the nine Texas ports for which truck crossing data are available have increased 216 percent since 1990, from a combined 726,000 in 1990 to combined 2.3 million in 1999.
Consequently, border trade has skyrocketed. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports the 1999 value of U.S. trade to and from Mexico by truck through Texas ports exceeded $106 billion - $53.6 billion in imports and $52.6 billion in exports - an 85 percent increase from the 1995 total of $57.3 billion.
Because of the tremendous growth in trade, maquiladora manufacturing, population and traffic, the international bridge and highway infrastructure is being strained. The combination of these factors results in increased traffic congestion, which impedes travel in the border communities and on border ports of entry.
"The economic boom of NAFTA and our tremendous population growth have exceeded the expectations of those who built our highway system," said Gov. Rick Perry in his State of the State address. "We must consider immediate, innovative alternatives."
Also, NAFTA provisions mandating increased access for Mexican trucks to operate throughout the United States have been delayed. The U.S. House of Representatives recently blocked the Transportation Department from issuing permits that would allow such access beginning in January 2002, and the Senate is looking to impose tougher regulations that initially planned.
"I think it's a worrisome indication that there's some people on the Hill who are pursuing an isolationist path," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer this week in response to recent Congressional actions. "And the President would like to stop that from happening. I think you see some people on the Hill are pulling back from NAFTA, which is troublesome.
"... The President is committed to NAFTA. He believes NAFTA has been very helpful and successful in creating jobs in the United States and in creating opportunities in Mexico."
Currently, Mexican trucks are restricted to commercial zones stretching north of the U.S. border into California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Mexican trucks were to have full access to U.S. roads by January 2000 through NAFTA - which was signed in 1994 - but that has been delayed because of safety concerns and union pressure.
"We cannot throw open our borders completely until we have in place the personnel and adequate facilities for conducting large-scale, routine inspections at all border crossings," said U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) this week. "It is vital that we be able to enforce regulations such as weight limitations and that we are able to collect reliable information on the safety records of all trucking firms and drivers, regardless of their country of origin."
Most of the $250 billion in goods traded between Mexico and the United States travel by truck but are transferred within a commercial zone along the border from one national trucking fleet to another. The volume of trade equals about 5 million truckloads a year, by U.S. industry estimates.
Mexico estimates about 14,000 trucks cross the border daily, and it has lost about $2 billion because of the current U.S. policy.
The three-day U.S.-Mexico Border Summit will bring together high-ranking officials from both countries, representatives of major national foundations and corporate leaders to examine international trade, energy, telecommunications, utility infrastructure corridor development, border manufacturing opportunities, water, housing and health issues.
For more information on the U.S.-Mexico Border Summit, visit www.bordersummit.com or contact The University of Texas-Pan American at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 956/381-2116 or toll-free at 1-888-432-4033.