President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced Thursday that they had resolved a long-running dispute over the passage of trucks across the U.S.-Mexican frontier, offering a brief moment of harmony at a time of tensions over the flow of drugs and guns across the same border.
Reached at a summit in Washington, the agreement allowing Mexican trucks to operate in the United States was cheered by business leaders who say the dispute hurt trade. But union leaders and many Democrats fear that a free flow of trucks from Mexico will come at the expense of the U.S. trucking industry and the jobs it provides.
The agreement comes at a sensitive moment between the neighbors. Calderon has complained in recent weeks that U.S. efforts in the joint fight against Mexican drug cartels have failed to curb the American demand for drugs or stem the flow of weapons into Mexico.
The Mexican leader, who launched a bloody war against the cartels four years ago that has seen thousands of Mexicans killed, also has expressed his irritation over the December leak of secret diplomatic cables. In the cables, U.S. officials expressed frustration with a “risk averse” Mexican army they believe has impeded the fight against the cartels.
Thursday’s meetings were the first since that leak. But Obama and Calderon projected a positive image of U.S.-Mexican relations. Both emphasized the strength of the ties and cooperation between the two countries, especially in the effort to stop the flow of drugs and guns and tamp down the violence in Mexico.
Obama praised the “extraordinary courage” of Mexicans and pledged to remain a full partner with Calderon.
As he stood beside Obama, Calderon expressed sadness over last month’s killing of Jaime Zapata, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in Mexico, and pledged to bring those responsible to justice.
When Obama said that the United States had filed a formal extradition request asking Mexico to turn over the suspect in the killing, however, Calderon said he was not yet willing to comply.
“We have to review what the law stipulates,” Calderon said, saying he wants to “reserve his opinion” on the matter.
White House officials pointed to the breakthrough on trucking as a sign of good relations. Cross-border trucking was allowed under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, but U.S. officials have balked out of safety and environmental concerns. Mexico has pledged to meet U.S. standards; the two governments still must work out the details.
The deal angered union leaders, a valuable part of Obama’s political base.
The Teamsters union said that in its earlier policy, the Obama administration had rightly barred Mexican truckers from driving in the U.S. because their vehicles are what the union called unsafe.
The union also cited a high unemployment rate as a reason to keep the trucking ban in place.
“This deal puts Americans at risk,” Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa said. “This agreement caves in to business interests at the expense of the traveling public and American workers.”
But the end of the trucking ban won praise from one of Obama’s most vocal critics in the business community, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.