Mexico trucking issue hits home for U.S. agriculture
Study finds that $153 billion in production affected by tariffs
March 31, 2011
The Border Trade Alliance earlier this month expressed its optimism that a framework announced by President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón for setting the trucking issue was a real step in the right direction.
If all this sounds familiar, it's because the dispute over trucking dates back to the Clinton administration, when bogus claims over truck safety and environmental damage first won out over the need to comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement signed with our friends and neighbors, Canada and Mexico.
We've been close to settling this issue before, and yet here we are again.
Perhaps no other debate in NAFTA has featured the same level of high-pitched hyperbole as the trucking debate. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), one of the most vocal anti-Mexico trade voices in Congress, once famously called Mexican trucks "rumbling death traps" and painted a picture of Mexican truck drivers as sleep-deprived, drug-addled, 18-wheel drag racers.
But instead of claiming to worry about American jobs while he repeats talking points for Big Labor, the congressman might want to worry instead about the $36 million in retaliatory tariffs his protectionist position has cost Oregon agricultural products like Christmas trees, pears, frozen potatoes, cherries, wine and onions.
Because of the U.S.' continued failure to live up to its responsibilities under NAFTA, Mexico finally resorted to slapping retaliatory tariffs totaling in the billions of dollars on a host of U.S. goods headed south.
Perhaps nowhere is the economic damage to the U.S. starker than in the agricultural sector, where what is commonly believed to be a U.S.-Mexico border issue has suddenly landed in America's farms and ranches.
Our friends at Texas A&M's Center for North American Studies recently completed an analysis of the Mexican tariffs' effect on U.S. agriculture. They found that nationally nearly $153 billion in U.S. agricultural production has been impacted. They further found that four of the five states most impacted by Mexican tariffs are nowhere near the Mexican border: Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
The trade community is holding out hope that the Obama and Calderón administrations can finally put this debate to an end, but there are powerful labor interests that will surely be reminding the White House of their ability to affect elections.
The importance of U.S.-Mexico bilateral trade has been made clear now to states not usually associated with the intricacies of cross-border trade. The Mexico border is suddenly closer to places like Davenport, Iowa and Madison, Wisconsin. This is just one more reminder of why issues like improved port infrastructure, increased human resources and better technology should be just as important to representatives and senators from the interior of the U.S. as they are to border state delegations.
The pro-trade argument can't just be won on the border; it has to be won in the heartland, too.
Nelson Balido is the president of the Border Trade Alliance