This week, while I was away on a series of (both political and non-political) meetings, the Bush administration went ahead and cleared the way by executive fiat for Mexican trucks to begin operating in the United States. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said, "This program will make trade with Mexico easier and keep our roads safe at the same time." The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) specifies that they will be allowed to do this, but it has not yet been fully implemented (though the Bush administration has tried before to do so) since there are some concern about safety.
And there still are. Presently, there are not enough truck inspectors to even inspect more than a fraction of the American trucks on the road (and up to a quarter of those they do inspect, fail that inspection and are taken out of service for safety reasons.) There has not been a significant increase in the number of inspectors for years, so it is hard to see how adding Mexican trucks to the thousands of American trucks that are on the road today will do anything but create that many more potential accidents (and sooner or later, more real accidents). Mexican drivers already are operating under laxer safety standards than in the United States (for example, not having to keep a truck log like they do here that will tell whether a driver has been operating the vehicle for too long at a stretch.) But to then try and inspect them with our understaffed force of inspectors is asking for the impossible. And the immigrant-bashing far right not objecting to this one really shows their hypocrisy since it is hard to imagine that undocumented workers won't think of hitching a ride on a (probably not inspected) truck.
I'm not necessarily against free trade agreements in general or NAFTA (which has already been signed and ratified, and which we should adhere to) specifically. I wrote about Free Trade issues in the context of the WTO agreement in 2005. I wrote that while they are not in and of themselves bad, what we should be doing (and haven't) is include and enforce standards relating to labor laws (including safety standards), anti-pollution standards and and anti-corruption standards that match our own. And I still believe that.
But it looks like maybe we need to seriously upgrade our own safety standards first.