First Mexican Truck Enters US Under Long-Delayed NAFTA Provision

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico: For the first time, a Mexican tractor-trailer has crossed the border into the US on its way into the country's interior.

The commercial truck hauling a large steel drilling structure entered the United States this afternoon, nearly two decades after passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was supposed to improve cargo transportation between the two countries.

But the trucking program was stalled for years by concerns that it would put highway safety and American jobs at risk.

A ceremony was held in the border city of Nuevo Laredo before the truck set off for a Dallas suburb. The owner of Transportes Olympic told dignitaries of both countries he considers his trucks' access to the US interior like being invited to a friend's house.

Hours before the ceremony, Mexico announced it was canceling punitive tariffs imposed on American goods over the US refusal to allow the trucks. But the Mexican government warned that if the accord is not respected by the United States, the tariffs could be reinstated.

NAFTA, signed in 1994, had called for Mexican trucks to have unrestricted access to highways in Border States by 1995 and full access to all US highways by January 2000. Canadian trucks have no limits on where they can go.

But until now, Mexican trucks have seldom been allowed farther than a buffer zone on the US side of the border, where their cargo was typically transferred to American vehicles.

The public debate surrounding the accord had mostly focused on the safety of Mexican trucks. But labor unions and other groups were strongly opposed to the agreement because they said it would cost Americans trucking and other jobs.

The US Department of Transportation says the safety concerns have now been resolved. Electronic monitoring systems will track how many hours the trucks are in service. Drivers will also have to pass safety reviews, drug tests and assessments of their English skills. Mexico has the authority to demand similar measures from American drivers.