Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quick Reminder: We're Still Paying Pointless Mexican Tariffs for Purely Political Reasons (and It Won't End Anytime Soon)

I've repeatedly whined about lamented the Obama administration's refusal to resolve the US ban on Mexican trucks - one that was surreptitiously slipped into the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act at the behest of the Teamsters, expressly violates NAFTA and has resulted in the needless imposition of Mexican tariffs on over $2.4 billion worth of US exports annually.  Last time we checked in on this debacle of a dispute, things appeared to be moving at quite the, ahem, deliberate pace:
Reuters reports on something that I unfortunately forecast months ago: the US-Mexico dispute over America's NAFTA-illegal ban on Mexican trucks won't be resolved for a long, long while.  Just how slow are things moving, you ask?  Well, on Monday, the two sides finally agreed to establish, in the words of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood a "a working group to consider next steps of the cross-border trucking program."  In other words, after 14 months of Mexican retaliatory sanctions on $2.4 billion worth of US exports, the US and Mexico have finally agreed to form a bilateral group to talk about how to ultimately resolve the problem.  Eureka!  Of course, with 78 teamster-loving, perma-campaigning members of Congress openly demanding the renegotiation of NAFTA's liberalized trucking requirements, the administration's slow-walk of this dispute isn't really surprising.  Frankly, I'm just surprised that we didn't just try to pay the Mexicans off.
Now, more than four months later, The Trucker reports that the Transportation Department has developed a new "fix" for the dispute, but - besides the fact that DOT said it had something ready to go more than a year ago  - there's a rather giant obstacle to implementing it:
The Department of Transportation has developed a proposal that it feels can resolve the Mexico truck controversy, but is waiting until after the Nov. 2 election before discussing the plan when members of Congress, The Trucker has learned.
Sources said the DOT is planning to move swiftly after the elections to push the proposal forward.
In short, even though a solution to the NAFTA trucking mess appears to be ready, the Obama administration is refusing to move on it because of politics and nothing more; thus, American exporters will keep paying those pointless Mexican tariffs until DOT has been told by the White House that the electoral coast is clear.  Man, it's a good thing that the US economy is just humming along right now, or this political decision might be considered a pretty absurd, irresponsible and brazen move, huh?

Oh, wait.

Unfortunately, the news gets worse for those hapless American exporters (and their employees).  According to the Journal of Commerce (and re-reported above and here), it's very likely that DOT's big "fix" - which is almost certainly a temporary "pilot program" similar to the Bush-era program that the 2009 appropriations law cancelled - just ain't going to cut it anymore:
Meanwhile, a Mexican official said Oct. 15 at a Washington luncheon that Mexico would not accept another pilot program as a solution, according to a report in the Journal of Commerce....

"If you put in place a demonstration project similar to what we had, it can begin, but it can be defunded at any time,” said Jose Luis Paz Vega, the head of the trade and North American Free Trade Agreement office at the Mexican embassy in Washington said at the Oct. 15 luncheon. “Mexico is not willing to take that any more. We need a program that is permanent, that has certainty, and complies with NAFTA. And we’re not willing to accept anything less than that.”
So even after elections, those tariffs aren't likely to go way anytime soon, and US exporters will keep paying through the nariz.

Now, according to multiple sources, Washington Sen. Patty Murray (D) has been working, umm, "hard" to broker a solution to the Mexican trucking fiasco because many of her constituents are getting pummeled by the tariffs.  Yet she's been consistently stonewalled by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the White House.  Of course, I do wonder just how hard Murray can really push on this issue considering she's complaining to her fellow Democrats.  I mean, I seriously doubt that she would be willing, for example, to demand congressional hearings on the subject and publicly grill Secretary LaHood live on C-SPAN, or to hold a news conference and scream about how dirty Teamster influence on the White House has threatened good Washington companies and jobs.  (Some quick Googling did reveal, however, that she wrote a sternly-worded letter to the President, drafted some legislative language on the subject, and politely asked Sec. LaHood for an "update" at a March 2010 hearing.  Shockingly, those bold and decisive moves didn't get the job done.)

Fortunately for Sen. Murray's constituents, I imagine that her GOP challenger in next month's Senate election, Dino Rossi, wouldn't feel so conflicted about confronting the Obama administration, and thus could push a lot harder than Sen. Murray on this issue.  Maybe then, we could resolve this painful embarrassment once and for all.

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