By Doug Palmer
August 5, 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mexican President Felipe Calderon will press President Barack Obama Sunday for a quick resolution to a cross-border trucking dispute that prompted Mexico to retaliate on $2.4 billion of U.S. goods.
"President Calderon will press forward our position and it will be great if we can get this solved at the latest by the end of this year," a Mexican official told Reuters on Wednesday, speaking on condition that he not be identified.
Calderon is hosting Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a meeting in Guadalajara of the leaders of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Obama and Calderon will hold bilateral talks Sunday before the three leaders all meet Monday.
The United States agreed in NAFTA to allow Mexican commercial trucks to transport goods within four U.S. border states in 1995 and throughout the country in 2000, but delayed implementation on safety grounds.
A NAFTA dispute resolution panel ruled in Mexico’s favor in February 2001, but Mexico City held off on imposing sanctions after former President George W. Bush promised action to implement the long-delayed provision.
Calderon’s administration retaliated in March on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. manufacturing and agricultural goods after Obama signed a 2009 spending bill that canceled a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to operate beyond a 25-mile (40-km) commercial zone along the U.S. border.
"When Congress decided to defund the program, we were told at the time they would come forward with something concrete relatively soon," the Mexican official said.
"We take in good faith the administration’s intention to move forward on it, but frankly we don’t see a lot of movement here," the official added.
Mexico understands that Obama’s top priority is to pass healthcare reform and restore U.S. economic growth, but "we’ve been waiting for 15 years," he said.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union has strongly opposed sharing the road with Mexican truck drivers, telling U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in April that Mexico has "yet to take responsibility to raise its level of safety enforcement for Mexican trucks and drivers."
Mexico says it has already taken many steps to address U.S. safety concerns and the real reason Congress canceled the pilot program was protectionism.
It is impossible to speculate whether Mexico would agree to additional safety measures, such as guaranteeing Mexican truck drivers that work in the United States be fluent in English and able to read U.S. traffic signs, "until we see something on paper" from the United States, the official said.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Walsh)