Obama, Calderon make progress on trucking dispute

By Alister Bull

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday the United States and Mexico had agreed on a way to solve a long-simmering cross-border trucking dispute that has hurt trade between the two neighbors.

"After nearly 20 years, we finally have found a clear path to resolving the dispute over trucking between our two countries," Obama told a joint news conference after meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the White House.

The proposal, which must be approved by U.S. lawmakers, is still being finalized and will be ready for congressional scrutiny later this month or in April. If passed, the White House said it would lift tariffs on $2 billion worth of U.S. goods and boost hiring on both sides of the border.

"I look forward to consulting with Congress and moving forward in a way that strengthens the safety of cross-border trucking, lifts tariffs on billions of dollars of U.S. goods, expands our exports to Mexico and creates jobs," Obama said.

The United States pledged to allow cross-border trucking as part of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, but implementation of that promise has been blocked for years.

The powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the news, and said the dispute had put over 25,000 U.S. jobs at risk.

"This is an important step to promote job growth on both sides of the border and shore up our bilateral relationship," Chamber President Thomas Donohue said in a statement.

Obama, early in his first year in office, signed legislation ending a pilot program for cross-border trucking put in place by the administration of former President George W. Bush. Mexico, which previously had won a NAFTA panel ruling against the United States on the issue, responded by imposing retaliatory duties.

The Obama administration in January released a concept paper for talks with Mexico on reestablishing cross border trucking. It proposed a new inspection and monitoring regime to permit long-haul trucks from Mexico on U.S. highways.

Under the proposal, Mexico will lift 50 percent of the tariffs once the agreement is signed, and will suspend the remaining 50 percent of tariffs when the first Mexican carrier wins operating authority under the deal.

The White House said that Mexico would terminate all current tariffs once the agreement was normalized.

(Additional reporting by Doug Palmer and John Crawley in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao)