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Showing Mexican Truck Drivers The Exit

Hector (Captain Tito) Angueira, who runs the Sea Gypsy scuba boat in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, tells a good story about two young women from Texas who visited the island.

After a couple of days of diving near Culebra, they drove away on the main highway to explore other regions. A week later, they wrote to Angueira to say how beautiful and charming they found the countryside. “And,” they added, “Salida is a very big place!” “Salida” is Spanish for “Exit.” They passed it at every off-ramp.

It is possible to drive quite safely, if cluelessly, in a country where you do not know the language. But don’t tell this to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The truck drivers’ union, with allies in Congress and the White House, zealously defends our highways from the hazards of Mexican truckers who might not be able handle phrases like “rest area,” “weigh station” and “$9.99 T-bone.”

The Teamsters also argue that Mexican trucks might not be maintained to American standards and that Mexican authorities do not keep immaculate driver safety records. However, the Teamsters are not aggressively pushing for tighter inspections of U.S. trucks or for a national driver safety database in Washington. They also have not advocated for any restrictions on Canadian drivers, approximately 125,000 of whom belong to Teamsters Canada.

The big problem the Teamsters seem to have with Mexican drivers is that they work for substantially less money than Teamsters do. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into force in 1994, required the United States to open its highways to Mexican trucks and drivers by 2000. The Mexicans are still waiting. Meanwhile, Mexican drivers are confined to a 25-mile strip along the border.

A pilot program operated successfully for several years, allowing a small number of Mexicans to drive nationwide. But that program was shut down this year under legislation sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and signed by President Obama.

Apparently we can do something simple, like reorganize the U.S. auto industry, in just a few months. But something really, really difficult, like letting Mexican drivers haul grapes to North Dakota, takes a whole lot longer.

The Mexicans are tired of waiting for Washington to honor its commitments. Earlier this year, Mexico imposed $2.4 billion of retaliatory tariffs against U.S. goods. A Mexican trade association, Canacar, announced last week that it is pursuing a $6 billion arbitration claim against Washington under NAFTA.

Sen. Dorgan might want to think about the impact of his legislative activities on less-well-off residents of his state before he agrees to haul the Teamsters’ political water in the future. A North Dakota family of four can qualify for a maximum of $668 in food stamp assistance each month. That is not much to feed four people for 30 days or so. This allowance might go a little further, especially in a remote place like North Dakota, if it did not cost quite so much to deliver grapes and other foodstuffs from Mexico.

A lot of drivers are waiting at the border for a chance to do exactly that.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.

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