WASHINGTON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - More than 100 U.S.-based retailers, agriculture groups and transportation councils urged the government's trade agency on Tuesday to preserve trucking provisions in any new version of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has proposed eliminating the provision that allows Mexican trucks to move more easily into the United States, and vice versa, and instead reverting to rules established by Congress, which would likely be more restrictive on Mexican trucks.
"We depend on the trucking industry, both American and Mexican, to safely and efficiently haul our products in both countries," the groups said in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
The USTR did not respond to a request for comment.
President Donald Trump has criticized NAFTA for draining U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico, calling it "the worst trade deal ever made" and he has threatened to cancel the 1994 pact signed by the United States, Mexico and Canada even as the countries negotiate to rework the deal.
It took almost a decade after NAFTA's passage to fully implement the truck provision, as the Americans argued Mexican trucks posed a safety risk. The U.S. government eventually backed down and allowed trucks to cross the border.
The letter, which was signed by groups including the American Farm Bureau, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, North American Shippers Association, and The Toy Association, said that Mexican trucks do not actually compete with American trucks.
"Currently, it is a small, but important way of making sure our industries and North America remain competitive in the world market," the letter said.
The Teamsters Union, which represents many American truck drivers, said it supports the USTR decision to reconsider the trucking provision.
"The Teamsters Union and our allies among highway safety advocates and independent long-haul drivers are all very glad that the administration has put this issue back on the table," said Mike Dolan, the top legislative representative for the union.
Dolan said the other groups misunderstood the USTR proposal, "which is simply to let the Congress legislate in this area, to keep our interstates safe and to safeguard the competitiveness of the American trucking industry." (Reporting by Ginger Gibson; editing by Grant McCool)