NAII Warns: Political Games over NAFTA Funding May Prove ‘Deadly Serious’

According to the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII), congressional action to block funding for additional border inspectors and facility improvements in anticipation of the opening up of the U.S.-Mexican border under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a political tactic that may threaten the safety of American motorists.

According to the NAII, in published reports, organized labor took credit for convincing 82 Republican House members to join ranks with Democratic representatives to successfully attach an amendment to the House Transportation Appropriations bill, that places a significant road block on new funding for implementation of the free trade agreement.

With six months left to bring inspections up to an effective level and funding issues being bandied about in Congress, NAII cautions that lives may be at stake.

David Golden, director, commercial lines for the NAII, cited the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s (IG) report that documented the need for a minimum of 139 federal inspectors at the borders. The IG noted that the 139 inspector requirement was based on 1998 traffic levels and did not account for truck traffic increases over the past three years or anticipated increases in truck traffic when the border opens. As of March 2001, FMCSA had 50 inspectors in the field with 10 authorized positions still unfilled. If all 60 positions were filled, the addition of 80 inspectors would barely cover the 1998 work needs, NAII commented.

In written comments to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on proposed implementation rules for NAFTA, Golden said that funding set aside in the Bush Administration’s proposed budget would only give border safety inspectors capacity to handle 1998 traffic levels, but not enough to handle the increase in traffic since then.

A ruling on the NAFTA treaty earlier this year said that the United States had violated the treaty by imposing a moratorium restricting Mexican truck travel to a limited commercial zone up to 20 miles within the United States. The clock began ticking when the arbitration panel said that the U.S. must open up the borders to Mexican truck travel throughout the U.S. The Bush Administration committed to opening the border by January 2002.

NAII members believe that border safety inspection infrastructure will need significant improvement in order to protect Americans from unsafe Mexican vehicles. Mexico’s position has been to threaten trade sanctions if the border does not open.