The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has begun processing applications from Mexican carriers that want authority to own and operate fleets in the U.S. that transport international cargo between points within the U.S., as well as those providing bus service here.

The new authority is part of NAFTA, which, although technically in effect since December 1995 for freight carriers and January 2001 for bus operators, had not been implemented due to a moratorium imposed by the Clinton Administration.

President Bush authorized Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to rescind the moratorium and begin processing applications on June 5. Under NAFTA, Mexican-owned companies set up in the U.S. will be subject to the laws and regulations that apply to U.S. and Canadian carriers.

In a related move, U.S. citizens, currently permitted to own a 51% share of Mexican carriers operating in Mexico, will be allowed 100% ownership beginning Jan. 1, 2004.

While the Bush Administration is moving forward with plans to open the border in January 2002, Democrats in Congress are trying to delay it. Citing safety concerns, last month ten senators signed a letter to Bush asking him to reconsider his decision to comply with NAFTA. Their main issue is FMCSA's initial plan to allow Mexican truckers to operate in the U.S. up to 18 months before passing a DOT safety audit.

On June 26, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the transportation spending bill that would block the Administration's plans to allow Mexican trucks to ship goods to and from any point in the U.S. At presstime, the Senate had not yet acted on this legislation.