The 30-day comment period ended Friday for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed rules to put into effect the long-delayed cross-border Mexican trucking program required under the North American Free Trade Agreement. (Docket: FMCSA-2011-0097).

The Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise offered a thorough report on the issue, albeit with a headline one can argue over, “Cross-border trucking and tariffs — hard to balance.” To exporters of agricultural and manufactured goods, it doesn’t seem that hard at all. The tariffs tilted the scales heavily in a bad direction, and enacting the cross-border trucking program restores the balance.

Much of the effect in California has been on agricultural products, including dates, table grapes, lettuce and other crops grown in eastern Riverside County. Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau, said the tariff on table grapes, as high as 45 percent initially, cost growers 70 percent of their Mexican market.

Doug Goudie, director of international trade policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, said adding on that kind of tariff drives away customers and damages American producers. Goudie said he knows of one Mexican firm that is buying potato products grown in Canada, which he said was absurd because the products had to move through the U.S. to get to the destination.

“If you have to add 25 cents to every dollar for everything you’re trying to sell, pretty soon a Chinese or a Canadian product looks a lot better,” Goudie said.

Once the program is place, there will be more economic activity on both sides of the border. Increased opportunity, investment and wealth means trial lawyers will follow with bogus, hyped, shakedown lawsuits. (Where have we seen that before?) The American Association for Justice, the trial lawyer lobby, is setting the stage for litigation with its comments to the FMCSA, described in a news release, “Mexican-Based Trucks Should Carry Adequate Insurance: NAFTA Trucking Provisions Lack Protections for Motorists Injured in Accidents.

The important thing for the U.S. plaintiffs’ lawyers is to get their assertion on record that the insurance requirements are inadequate. Personal injury attorneys can then point to their regulatory submission to broaden the targets of their litigation from Mexican operators/insurers to more deep-pocket U.S. companies.

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