It all seemed to be a done deal. But the cross-border trucking program established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) back in September 2007 got a fiscal stake driven through its heart in early March of this year via an addendum authored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to an appropriations bill.

With the stroke of a pen from newly installed President Barack Obama — who, along with Vice President Joe Biden, opposed FMCSA's Mexican truck program while serving in the Senate — it quickly halted.

Yet by May, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood — who, despite opposing Mexican truck access to U.S. roads for over a decade as a Republican U.S. Representative from Illinois — had already publicly laid the groundwork for restating the Mexican truck program. “I hope once we have a chance to share that information with Congress, that we can have the Mexican truck program reinstated,” he said during a speech at the National Press Club.

IN LIMBO

As of yet, though, that plan remains in limbo. Groups both supporting and opposing the Mexican truck program report they have no clear idea of where the planning on this issue is at the moment. Some say the plan still remains with the Dept. of Transportation (DOT), while others say it's already been completed and was handed over to the White House in June, with input from the U.S. Trade Commission, Dept. of State, Dept. of Justice, and other agencies.

“Whatever the case, the American Trucking Assns. [ATA] has not been informed of any of the facets of what a new border policy will look like,” Clayton Boyce, ATA's vp-public affairs and press secretary, told Fleet Owner.

Whatever the policy changes, however, groups in opposition to Mexican trucks accessing U.S. roads say they plan to continue digging in their heels over the issue.

“The fact remains that Mexico does not have the same [trucking safety] regulatory regime as the U.S., or Canada for that matter,” stressed Rod Nofziger, government affairs director for the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA). “Until such time as they [Mexico] raise their regulatory standards to match those in the U.S., we will continue our staunch opposition to a cross-border trucking program.”

When funding for the program was cut, Mexican reaction was immediate. They responded by slapping higher tariffs totaling $2.4 billion on over 90 goods it imports from the U.S. — ranging from strawberries to Christmas trees — vehemently rejecting a claim by the Obama Administration and Congress that they shut down the program over safety issues with Mexican trucks. “This is not about the safety of American roads and American drivers. This is protectionism,” said Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., in late March.

Mexico's largest trucking industry trade group, the Camara Nacional Del Autotransporte De Carga, responded by filing a $6 billion suit against the U.S. under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The U.S. began to backpedal from its position on Mexican trucks. “With respect to trade, Mexico is one of our largest trading partners,” President Obama said during a joint appearance with Mexico's President Felipe Calderon in April. “The amount of commerce that flows back and forth creates wealth in Mexico, and it creates wealth in the U.S. I have said repeatedly that I'm in favor of free trade.

“I know that there has been some concern about a provision that was placed in our stimulus package related to Mexican trucking,'' the President continued. “That wasn't a provision that my administration introduced, and I said at the time that we need to fix this because the last thing we want to do at a time when the global economy is contracting and trade is shrinking is to resort to protectionist measures.”

Obama said at the time he hoped to resolve the issue in what he termed “an effective way.”

“It's not helpful to a number of U.S. producers who are interested in selling into Mexico and are fearful that they may be subject to countervailing tariffs or retaliation,” he explained. “So we're going to see if we can get this fixed.”

The question now, though, is when?