DALLAS -- Nearly two decades after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the first Mexican truck ventured into the U.S. under provisions of the controversial treaty.
With little fanfare, a white tractor-trailer with Mexican license plates entered the courtyard of the Atlas Copco facility in Garland, Texas on Saturday afternoon to unload a Mexico-manufactured metal structure for drilling oil wells.
The delivery marked the first time that a truck from Mexico reached the U.S. interior under the 17-year-old trade agreement, which was supposed to give trucks from the neighboring countries access to highways on both sides of the border. The Obama administration signed an agreement with Mexico to end the long dispute over the NAFTA provision in July that also removes $2 billion in duties on American goods.
"We were prepared for this a long time ago because we met the requirements and complied with the rules of cross-border transportation, which made us earn the trust of American companies," said Gerardo Aguilar, a manager for "Transportes Olympic," the only Mexican company authorized to operate its trucks in the U.S.
The long-delayed door-to-door delivery was launched with a bi-national ceremony Friday to mark the truck's crossing at the international bridge "World Trade" in Laredo, Tex., the entry point for 40 percent of products imported from Mexico.
"This is a great achievement," said Aguilar, who added that "Transportes Olympic" counts with 60 U.S. firms as clients, accounting for up to 80 percent of company profits.
"Now, making deliveries directly across the border will save much more resources and money for both sides," Aguilar added. The firm, which has a fleet of 65 trucks, hopes to garner up to six delivery contracts with the U.S. this year.
A small number of Mexican trucks had traveled into the U.S. under the pilot Border Trucking Demonstration Project, which started in 2007. But in 2009, the Obama administration cancelled the pilot following pressure from the Teamsters union. Mexico responded by doubling the tariffs U.S. products exported to Mexico. On Friday, Mexico suspended those tariffs.
Josue Cruz, 29-year-old Mexican citizen, met all Department of Transportation and state requirements, Aguilar said. "He was cleared in the criminal background check, physical examination, anti-doping test, and passed the requirement for English proficiency," he added.
U.S. critics have long voiced concerns about safety requirements for Mexican trucks as well as the potential risk to American transportation jobs.
Aguilar said Mexican drivers observe safety standards similar to those in the United States. "We have passed safety tests; we are equipped with closed circuit cameras and do comprehensive inspections of our units," he said. "We are following their work model exactly to the letter."
Jim Hoffa, the Teamsters president, said the union remained opposed to the crossing of Mexican trucks into the United States.
"The fact remains that Mexico does not meet our safety standards, and a violent drug war is raging there, which the Mexican government is powerless to control," he said in a statement.
Hoffa said the pilot program permitting Mexican trucks in the U.S. interior did not "create much public confidence" and predicted the failure of the new program.
Mexico's transportation department said in a statement that about 10 Mexican companies have inquired about applying to be included in the program.
The American Trucking Associations in a statement praised the two countries for working to "end the long-running and unnecessary dispute."
Representatives of Atlas Copco Drilling Systems in Garland couldn't be reached for comment.