President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón announced a solution Thursday to their long-running dispute over the passage of trucks across the border.
WASHINGTON — President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón announced a solution Thursday to their long-running dispute over the passage of trucks across the border, settling one of the issues that has aggravated tensions between the two countries.
The agreement was cheered by business leaders who say the dispute hurt trade. But union leaders and many Democrats fear a free flow of trucks from Mexico will come at the expense of the U.S. trucking industry and jobs.
The agreement was the only substantive take-away of a meeting between the two leaders. Calderón has complained in recent weeks that U.S. efforts in the joint fight against Mexican drug cartels have failed to curb the American demand for drugs or stem the flow of weapons into Mexico.
He also has expressed his irritation over the December leak of secret diplomatic cables in which U.S. officials expressed frustration with a “risk-averse” Mexican army that they believe has impeded the fight against the cartels.
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Thursday’s meeting was the first since that leak. But Obama and Calderón projected a positive image of U.S.-Mexico relations. Both emphasized the strength of the ties and cooperation between the two countries, especially in the effort to stop the flow of drugs and guns and to tamp down the violence across the border.
Obama praised the “extraordinary courage” of Mexicans and pledged to remain a “full partner” with Calderón.
Calderón expressed sadness for the slaying of Jaime Zapata, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in Mexico, and pledged to bring those responsible to justice. But when Obama said the United States had filed a formal extradition request asking Mexico to turn over Zapata’s suspected killer, Calderón said he was not willing to comply.
“We have to review what the law stipulates,” he said, saying he wants to “reserve his opinion” on sending the suspected assailant, Julian Zapata Espinoza, to the United States.
White House officials pointed to the trucking deal as a sign of good relations. Mexico would eliminate half the $2.4 billion in punitive tariffs on pork, cosmetics, Christmas trees, chemicals, pet food and hundreds of other products once the deal is final, perhaps by next month, officials said. It would erase the rest when one of its trucking companies is approved to operate in the United States.
Unions and their allies in Congress have resisted the entry of Mexican trucks since the inception of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.
Congress triggered the retaliatory tariffs two years ago, when it cut off funds for a pilot program that would have allowed up to 100 Mexican trucks on U.S. highways.
Under the deal, Mexican trucks would be subject to U.S. safety and pollution standards. Drivers would have to obey U.S. work rules and pass drug and English tests.
The Teamsters union said that in its earlier policy, the Obama administration had rightly barred Mexican truckers from driving in the United States because their vehicles are “unsafe.”
“This deal puts Americans at risk,” said Teamsters union General President Jim Hoffa.
Material from The Dallas Morning News is included in this report.