Time to Open US/Mexico Border
Jan 1, 2001 12:00 PM, Charles E Wilson
A RECENT Federal Register notice provided an update on plans for Interstate 69, a new 1,600-mile transcontinental highway that would be one of the key NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) routes. The program is moving from the corridor planning and feasibility study stages to the state project planning, development, and Federal Highway Administration National Environmental Policy Act process and decision making stages.
If and when completed, this interstate would extend from Port Huron, Michigan/Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, to Brownsville, Texas/Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. I-69 was designated by Congress as a High-Priority Corridor of National Significance in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA).
Under the Clinton-Gore Administration, even at the current slow pace of the project, I-69 probably would have been completed long before the US/Mexico border was opened up as required under NAFTA. We hope the new administration of George W Bush will make it a priority to get the trade agreement back on track.
Under the NAFTA treaty that was signed by President Bill Clinton, the states on either side of the US/Mexico border were supposed to be opened for free access to truck fleets from the United States and Mexico in 1995. By 1999, all of the states in the two countries were to have been opened up.
The Clinton Administration, under pressure from labor unions, unilaterally blocked the NAFTA provisions just before they took effect in 1995, claiming that Mexican trucks were unsafe. The US also limited Mexican trucks to a 20-mile zone on the US side of the border.
Mexico finally got fed up with the delays and obstructions and filed a complaint with the NAFTA arbitration panel. Late last year, the panel reportedly unanimously rejected the US restrictions. If the United States refuses to lift the restrictions, it could end up paying a fine for the damages caused to the Mexican trucking industry.
It's likely that this situation can be resolved without any fines or other actions. Vicente Fox, Mexico's new president, has invited President Bush to visit his ranch sometime in the next couple of months to discuss common issues. Trade relations and NAFTA are certain to be among the topics.
Both men are free trade and NAFTA supporters. President Bush saw ample evidence of the benefits of NAFTA while serving as Texas governor. He has said that he believes the US/Mexico border should be open for trade purposes.
President Fox wants to go well beyond the basic issue of trade. He has a bold plan that would create free movement in people, as well as goods, across North America. President Fox believes it is a win-win plan for all three North American countries, and members of the US Congress seem to be listening.
With new presidents in Mexico and the United States, now is the time to move forward on NAFTA. It would be a tragedy to miss this opportunity.
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