Court ruling good news for commerce

The June 7 Supreme Court ruling paving the way for Mexican trucks to operate inside the United States was a long time in coming.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declared that President Bush has the authority to open the U.S. border to Mexican trucks without waiting for a court-ordered environmental study (although the study will probably still be completed).

The court’s ruling arrived after years of delay that angered Mexican politicians, who felt the ban on Mexican rigs was protectionist and bigoted. Officials in that country had been pushing to get their trucks on U.S. highways, as stipulated more than 10 years ago under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Under the current rules, Mexican trucks are allowed to travel no farther than 20 miles past the border. As The Associated Press described it, a great deal of freight trailers are handed off from one tractor rig to another at the international boundary: “Mexican trucks unhook their trailers at the border, another cab pulls the freight box through inspection patios, and then an American truck picks up the load on the U.S. side.”

This inefficient method adds an unnecessary extra step to international shipping, making it more expensive to transport goods across the border. NAFTA was designed to eliminate artificial trade barriers like this.

Now that Mexico’s trucks have a green light to travel farther than 20 miles into this country, companies on both sides of the border should start to see savings as their operating costs go down. This, in turn, will mean lower prices for consumers.

There have been legitimate concerns about whether Mexican trucks, some of which are older or poorly maintained, can operate safely on American highways. However, that same worry applies to American trucks.

According to 2002 statistics from the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, 11.4 percent of Canadian trucks that were inspected were taken off the road, compared to 20.8 percent of U.S. vehicles and 26 percent of Mexican rigs. However, compare last year’s numbers with those from 1999, when 13.8 percent of Canadian vehicles inspected were taken off the road, compared with 39.2 percent of Mexican trucks and 22.1 percent of U.S. rigs. Clearly, the number of rigs passing inspection is on the rise.

Granted, safety of these vehicles will remain a primary concern. But by reducing this artificial trade barrier that keeps prices high, the U.S. government will enable Mexican shipping companies to afford to maintain their trucks.

Mexico claims the ban on its vehicles has cost the country more than $2 billion, The Associated Press reported. Opening U.S. highways to Mexican trucks will benefit our neighbor to the south — and that will make life better on this side of the border as well.