By Nicholas Johnston and Jens Erik Gould
August 10, 2009
Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama told his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderon that he is committed to resolving a dispute over truck access to U.S. highways.
Obama said he will also address safety concerns about the trucks raised by the U.S. Congress, an administration official said after the two leaders met in Guadalajara yesterday at a summit of North American leaders. Calderon told Obama that the dispute has hurt trade, raised consumer costs and reduced job creation, according to a statement from his press office.
Removing restrictions that prevent Mexican trucks from delivering goods across the border has been a top issue for Calderon since the U.S. Congress, citing safety concerns, ended a pilot program in March that allowed some trucks access. Mexico retaliated by imposing $2.4 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods after the program ended, affecting companies such as Procter & Gamble Co., the world’s largest household-products maker.
U.S. exporters such as Appleton Papers Inc. of Appleton, Wisconsin, and Mary Kay Inc., the Dallas-based cosmetics seller, have urged Obama to reach an agreement to put Mexican trucks back on U.S. roads and end the tariffs imposed on makers of paper, batteries, toothpaste and grapes.
Closely held Appleton is a member of the Alliance to Keep U.S. Jobs, a group of companies formed to fight the tariffs. Other members include Caterpillar Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc. and PepsiCo Inc.
Nafta and Trucks
As part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. agreed to allow Mexican trucks unrestricted access to deliver goods in the U.S., a pledge it has never fully honored because safety advocates and union officials say Mexico’s trucks and drivers don’t meet U.S. standards. Nafta rules would also have allowed Mexican trucks to pick up cargo to return to Mexico.
Around 4,500 Mexican trucking companies represented by the National Freight Transportation Chamber, known as Canacar, said in June they were seeking $6 billion in compensation from the U.S. because of the trucking conflict, alleging its northern neighbor wasn’t complying with Nafta.
In 2008, the U.S. and Mexico had $368 billion in trade, making Mexico the third-largest U.S. trading partner after Canada and China, according to the Commerce Department.
After their meeting, Obama and Calderon joined Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for dinner and a performance by a mariachi troupe. The three plan more meetings today before holding a joint press conference.
Calderon and Obama also discussed cooperation on fighting drug cartels through the Merida Initiative, a three-year, $1.1 billion package of aid to Mexico that includes helicopters, intelligence sharing, and police training.
The U.S. is withholding 15 percent of the Merida funds until the State Department deems that Mexico has made progress on human rights. In today’s meeting, Obama underscored the importance of human rights and said Mexican progress on the issue will aid its fight against the drug cartels, the U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Obama and Calderon also discussed the importance of coordination before a possible rebound of the deadly H1N1 swine flu, the Mexican statement said. The two presidents agreed to synchronize efforts to track the spread of the disease and prepare for outbreaks, the U.S. official said.
In May, the swine flu outbreak battered the Mexican economy as the government closed schools and restaurants, and foreign tourism revenue plunged. The flu may reduce Mexico’s gross domestic product 0.5 percent this year, according to central bank Governor Guillermo Ortiz.
Mexico recorded 146 deaths from swine flu among 17,416 total cases, the health ministry said Aug. 4. There were 43,771 cases worldwide of H1N1 flu and 302 deaths as of July 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Canada’s Harper told Calderon during a meeting yesterday that he won’t lift a requirement that Mexicans obtain visas before visiting the country. Canada announced the rule last month after a surge in refugee claims from Mexico.
The visa rule “has nothing to do with our bilateral relationship or broader issues; it is simply a control measure while we have problems in the refugee system,” Harper told reporters after the meeting. “It is not the fault of the government of Mexico, very clearly. This is a problem of the Canadian refugee law.”
Harper said he hopes Canadian lawmakers will work to streamline the way refugee claims are dealt with. Harper is in a minority government and needs support from opposition lawmakers to amend the immigration system.