Jewish World Review June 14, 2004 / 25 Sivan, 5764

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Consumer Reports

Mexican trucking issue underscores flaws of NAFTA | The Supreme Court decision to allow Mexican trucks to enter the United States without further environmental study is another reason for the United States to either end the North American Free Trade Agreement or renegotiate its terms.

Some 4.5 million Mexican trucks cross the border every year. Up until now the trucks have been forced to stay within 20 miles of the border. The Supreme Court's decision paves the way for Mexican trucks to hit U.S. highways almost immediately. But environmentalists say the Mexican trucks will bring in more than their cargo - they will also haul in toxic pollution.

We don't know what effect these trucks will have on our environment, we are not sure how safe and competent these truck drivers are, and we do not know whether the trucks they will be driving have been properly inspected. Mexico's regulatory and safety standards are simply not as high as ours.

"My big problem with U.S. policy towards the Mexican trucking issue," U.S. Business and Industry Council research fellow Alan Tonelson said, "is that we've assumed that just because we signed NAFTA, Mexico ipso facto has a trucking regulatory system that we can trust here in this country. We really need to understand that NAFTA is not a magic wand that confers first-world qualities onto Mexico."

Mexico is, in fact, still an underdeveloped country in almost every sense. Its 2002 gross domestic product was a mere $637 billion versus the United States' GDP of $10 trillion. Two-thirds of the urban population in Mexico live below the national poverty line. And Mexico's health and sanitation conditions are still, in many ways, substandard.

Despite the fact that we know the regulatory standards in Mexico are not up to ours, we do not have proper mechanisms in place to inspect these vehicles coming across our borders.

"I am still concerned, because right now the only permanent inspection facilities are in California," said Jackie Gillan, vice president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "Texas and other border crossings do not have permanent inspection facilities in place."

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Gillan also contends that security is a major issue.

"We're a very different place post 9-11," Gillen said. "I think now that we're going to open the southern border, we need to do a check to make sure (proper security measures) are in place, and that it's not going to in any way degrade safety and also not degrade security."

Then there's the issue of jobs. By allowing Mexican truck drivers to carry cargo in, we will necessarily be shipping out American jobs. Watchdog groups are also concerned that Mexican trucking companies will not prevent their drivers from working a full shift in Mexico, then crossing the border and starting the clock all over again in the United States - potentially putting fatigued truckers on our highways.

To allow Mexican trucks on U.S. highways is both dangerous and unwise. But under the guise of a commercial agreement, the NAFTA treaty continues to demonstrate its negative impact on our economy. By requiring the United States to allow a foreign country to violate our work regulations and environmental regulations, and to jeopardize our safety, it further reduces what is left of our diminishing power of sovereignty.

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Lou Dobbs is the anchor and managing editor of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Moneyline." Comment by clicking here.

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