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A Mexican Truck Ban Could be the Next Thing Hindering Trade Under NAFTA

America First may soon mean Mexican trucks are out if a proposal under the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations has any staying power.

The U.S. wants to restrict access to the country for Mexican truckers doing long-haul drives, according to a Bloomberg article citing sources who couldn’t be named. The argument among those in favor is that allowing Mexican truckers free rein to move about within the United States, eliminates jobs for American truckers who would otherwise have been handling that haul.

On the other side of things, however, opponents say the change will only serve to restrict trade.

In a letter to United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer Tuesday, associations spanning America’s many industries—including the National Retail Federation, the American Apparel and Footwear Association and the U.S. Fashion Industry Association on the apparel sector side—urged Lighthizer not to eliminate NAFTA’s trucking provisions.

[Read more on NAFTA: NAFTA Standoff Doesn’t Bode Well for the Future of the Trade Deal]

“We depend on the trucking industry, both American and Mexican, to safely and efficiently haul our products in both countries. Eliminating NAFTA trucking, including any investment protections, would have a long-term negative impact on our businesses. We depend on efficient border crossings to remain competitive,” the letter noted.

This saga isn’t a new one for the U.S. and Mexico. As part of NAFTA, trucks from all member nations should have been able to cart cargo throughout North America, but Mexico had run into opposition from the U.S. Though trucks from Mexico can come into the country, many can’t move much further than 25 miles in before handing off the cargo to a U.S. carrier.

The U.S. expanded Mexico’s access to cross-border trucking in January 2015 to “increase economic and export opportunities” and in exchange for the “permanent termination” of what amounted to more than $2 billion in retaliatory tariffs Mexico had placed on U.S. goods in an effort to stand up for what NAFTA was intended to allow them.

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Now it seems the U.S. wants to dial things back to where they were pre-2015—which may not bode well for advancing trade.

The letter directed to the USTR Tuesday continued, “Increasing trade in both directions is putting more and more pressure on our southern border land ports. Permitting Mexican carriers to hail freight beyond the border zones will help alleviate some of the congestion at the border, creating more efficiency through the system.”

In a divergent perspective, one trade expert thinks the possible ban would have very little impact on trade between the U.S. and Mexico at all.

“In reality, very few Mexican or American trucking companies have taken advantage of that long haul trucking right under NAFTA,” Jerry Pacheco, president of the New Mexico-based Border Trade Alliance, told Transport Topics.

Whichever holds true, the proposal is proving to be another contentious one on the table in talks that have already been extended through March 2018, as parties have yet to make substantial positive progress.

The next round of NAFTA talks is scheduled to take place in Mexico City next week, from Nov. 17-21, and a decision on the Mexican trucking proposal, or at least further details for a plan forward, may emerge then.