This afternoon at a joint White House press conference with Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon, President Obama announced the two countries now have a deal on the table to open U.S. highways to Mexican truck operators.

According to a BBC report just posted, Obama said the U.S. and Mexico partners had "found a clear path to resolving" the issue that has clouded diplomatic relations for the two free-trade partners for 20 years.

The President said the proposed agreement deal would be headed next to Congress for approval. However, no details of the deal were noted in the online news report.

Although U.S. and Mexican trucks had been authorized to cross the shared border under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, the US has effectively refused to let Mexican trucks into the U.S. thanks to organized resistance here over the years that hat centered on whether those vehicles meet U.S. highway safety and environmental standards as well as security concerns in the age of terrorism.

The Mexican government retaliated last year by placing tariffs on a number of US goods after Congress killed funding for a pilot program that had allowed long-haul Mexican linehaul trucks over the border.

That international politics were at play in setting the stage for this announcement is indisputable. As the BBC report noted: “The announcement of the trucking deal comes roughly two weeks after the killing of a U.S. agent in Mexico and leaked U.S. criticism of Mexico's war on drugs, both of which have worked to degrade a relationship between the nations that had until recently seen improvement in the past several years.”

UPDATE: The American Trucking Assns. said this afternoon that it “supports the announcement of an agreement in principle between the governments of the United States and Mexico to implement the long-delayed cross-border trucking provisions” of NAFTA.

“ATA is pleased that Presidents Obama and Calderon and their administrations have worked through their differences and have put our two countries on the path to resolving this issue after nearly 16 years,” said ATA president & CEO Gov. Bill Graves . “We hope this agreement will be a first step to increasing trade between our two countries, more than 70 percent of which crosses the border by truck.”

According to the truck lobby, the proposed deal upholds previous requirements for Mexican trucks operating on U.S. highways, “notably that Mexican fleets apply for and receive authority from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; demonstrate they meet the same safety standards as U.S. fleets and that those trucks are prohibited from hauling freight between destinations within the United States. “

Graves added that “When properly implemented, NAFTA’s trucking provisions should evolve to allow for a more efficient, safe and secure environment for cross-border operations between the U.S. and Mexico. Ensuring a level playing field requires that both countries establish permitting and regulatory processes that are clear and transparent to ensure that carriers from both countries are treated equitably.”