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Hunter may ruffle some presidential feathers over Mexican trucking issue

September 08, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Imperial Valley's congressman, Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, issued a statement Friday regarding the Mexican trucking issue that puts him at odds with Mexican President Vicente Fox and President George W. Bush's plans to open the border to Mexican trucks Jan. 1.

According to a statement, Hunter said, "I appreciate the efforts President Fox and his administration have been making to improve Mexico's relationship with the U.S.

"Opening the border and allowing trucks from Mexico to travel U.S. highways, however, does not result in better border relations. This action leads to unsafe highways and a loss of thousands of American trucking jobs."

Earlier this year, Hunter voted in favor of an amendment to the fiscal 2002 Transportation Appropriations bill that prohibits the U.S. Department of Transportation from spending any money to process any applications to allow Mexican trucks operating in the U.S.

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Bush has vowed to veto the appropriations package if Mexican trucks aren't allowed full-access to U.S. highways.

Speaking from Hunter's Washington office, his spokesman, Michael Harrison, said Hunter has no problem opposing the president on this issue.

"He's done that before in the past. Mr. Hunter is going to say what he thinks is right," Harrison said.

He added Hunter's opposition to allowing Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways is consistent with his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In 1994, Hunter opposed NAFTA because he deemed some of the provisions "unfair to American workers," Harrison said.

Under NAFTA Mexican trucks were to have full access to U.S. highways by January 2000. That deadline came and went when the Clinton administration balked, citing safety concerns.

Hunter still feels that safety is a main reason to block the trucks from passing beyond the commercial zone but he listed a lack of infrastructure and the possible loss of U.S. jobs as important concerns.

Right now Mexican trucks are not allowed past a border commercial zone boundary.

In Calexico, the zone is four miles from the border. In other parts of the country, such as San Diego and Brownsville, Texas, the zone is more than 20 miles from the border.

To get goods to big cities such as Los Angeles or Dallas, Mexican trucking companies transfer goods to mid-sized shuttle trucks that motor over the border to trucking terminals within the zone.

At the U.S. terminals, the goods are loaded onto U.S.-owned or leased big rigs and shipped throughout the country.

Bush and Fox advocate a plan that would allow Mexican trucks to go right through the border without having to use a shuttle-system.

Hunter opposes that plan, according to Harrison, because of the jobs that would be lost and because areas such as Imperial County don't have the infrastructure to support an increase in heavier trucks.

Harrison said it's possible there could be some federal funds headed this way in a few years for infrastructure but it doesn't look like that will be any time soon.

He said, "They provide funding for infrastructure every so many years."

The last time that happened, Harrison said, Hunter hooked up the Imperial Valley with $7 million for the construction of Highway 7, which will link the Calexico East Port of Entry with Interstate 8.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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