U.S. and Mexican officials signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this week allowing each country’s trucks to operate on the other’s highways. The MOU implements the agreement reached by Presidents Calderon and Obama last March.

The signing of the agreement will allow carriers originating in Mexico and the United States to operate permanently in both countries after enrolling in a new program and complying with all of the safety procedures of each country.    The new program is composed of three phases.  The first phase consists of a review of the companies’ documentation, vehicles, and drivers and participants will have to comply with safety and environmental standards and insurance programs.  During the second phase, carriers will be inspected upon each entry into the other country for the first three months and then a final compliance review will be conducted.  In the final phase, carriers who passed the compliance review will be granted permanent operating authority allowing them to operate throughout both countries.

The agreement implements a key provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took effect in 1994.  NAFTA called for Mexican trucks to have unrestricted access to highways in border states by 1995 and full access to all highways by January 2000.  But until now, mostly because of safety concerns, Mexican trucks were only allowed primarily in a buffer zone on the U.S. side of the border.  In retaliation, Mexico imposed higher tariffs on a number of U.S. products.   As a result of the agreement reached, Mexico will suspend 50 percent of the tariffs applied to the 99 U.S. products subject to the current retaliatory measures.  The other 50 percent of the tariffs will be suspended as soon as the first Mexican carrier is granted operating authority in the United States.  Mexico reserves its rights under NAFTA to reinstall the retaliatory measures in the case of non-compliance.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said safety concerns have been resolved.  Electronic-monitoring systems will track how many hours the trucks are in service.  Drivers will have to pass safety reviews, drug tests, and assessments of their English-language and reading skills of traffic signs.