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Senate passes bill on safety requirements

August 02, 2001|By MARINE COLE, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — The Senate on Wednesday passed a transportation appropriations bill that would ban Mexican trucks from operating in the United States if they don't comply with U.S. safety requirements.

"The Senate today took an important step forward in addressing the important transportation needs of this country," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., co-sponsor of the amendment with Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala. "I am also pleased, that despite the objections of a small but determined minority of senators, this bill retained all of its safety requirements for Mexican trucks to gain access to America's highways."

By a vote of 100 to 0, the Senate first put an end to a weeklong debate driven by a Republican minority arguing that the bill conflicted with U.S. trade commitments. The Senate then approved the $60 billion transportation bill by a unanimous voice vote.

When the transportation appropriations bill passed in the House late in June, an amendment was adopted to prohibit Mexican trucks from operating in the United States until Mexican safety requirements would match to U.S. requirements. The Senate version of the bill contains a similar amendment drafted by Murray and Shelby.


The Senate required safety inspections as well as safety audits to be done at the border, contrary to the Transportation Department's version, which would grant an 18-month permit at the end of which inspectors would proceed with the audit.

"The concerns over the safety of Mexican trucks industry are well known and will be addressed by this bill," Murray said. "The common-sense compromise crafted by Sen. Shelby and me will promote free trade and protect our citizens."

Both versions of the bill would put the United States in conflict with the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to some Republican senators, including John McCain, R-Ariz., and Trent Lott, D-Miss.

In February an arbitration panel found the United States in violation of the trade agreement by limiting the Mexican trucks to a maximum 20-mile commercial zone in which goods must be transferred to American trucks if safety standards were not met.

The Clinton administration blocked implementation of the agreement's provision concerning Mexican trucks, but after the panel's ruling, President Bush promised that Mexican trucks could start operating in the United States by January 2002.

McCain reminded senators Wednesday that Bush had threatened to veto any bill that barred Mexican trucks from operating in the United States.

"I am deeply concerned about potentially disastrous anti-trade language that could block the Bush administration's efforts to implement important provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement pertaining to Mexican trucks," he said. "What we cannot allow is any language which would effectively prevent the administration from complying with our NAFTA obligations and the February NAFTA panel ruling."

McCain said he was relieved to see the Senate restored the $88 million requested by the administration to hire more inspectors and improve border facilities.

"These increased funds make safety a priority," he said. "They help to ensure that the Mexican trucks entering the United States are as safe as, if not safer than, the American trucks on our roads today."

McCain said some senators would meet with the Transportation Department during the recess starting Monday and try to find a common language combining safety and trade interests, but he said that he will try to make the bill comply with the trade agreement.

"We are not moving on until we've exhausted every last remedy," he said. "We intend to do whatever is necessary to bring a set of negotiations."

After the recess, negotiators from the two houses are expected to come up with a compromise between the two versions. It is likely the conference will coincide with the visit of President Vincente Fox to Washington.

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