LAREDO, Texas It's a very simple equation: Laredo = Free Trade.

Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, every year $146 billion in trade flows through this border town. Mostly, it's on a continuous rush-hour of Mexican trucks backing all the way up to the other side of the border.

It's an important location, said Sgt. Juan Torres of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The Mexican trucks bring goods up to the border and drop them at one of dozens of distribution centers in Laredo.

American trucks pick them up and haul them off, cross-country.

Under NAFTA, Mexican trucks were supposed to be able to go all the way into the interior of the United States. But in reality, they have to stay within 25 miles of the border.

It's fair to say that restriction has caused something of an international incident.

Cross-border trucking stalled out over difficult trade talks with Mexico combined with pressure from labor unions and truck drivers.

In response, Mexico hit American agriculture products with more than $2 billion in tariffs.

Our Congress broke a deal, and Texas farmers and ranchers have been paying the price, said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who was in Washington lobbying in support of cross-border trucking.

Ed Sills, with the AFL-CIO of Texas, says lower-paid Mexican truckers on American highways are not only a threat to middle-class jobs, but a threat to safety.

We think, in the long run, corners are going to be cut and there's going to be potential dangers on our roads as a result, Sills said.

News 8 visited one of two truck inspection points operated by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Sgt. Torres said Mexican rigs are held to the same standards as their American counterparts.

The most common inspection consists of checking documents and weighing the trucks. Failing that inspection leads to much more scrutiny above and below the truck.

Sgt. Torres said he would feel just as comfortable driving one of the Mexican trucks as an American one. Yes, once they're been through a port of entry and been inspected, he said. Because we're not changing standards for them, I would feel comfortable.

But will the rest of Texas drivers also feel the same level of comfort? They may have to.

Both American and Mexican officials express confidence that a cross-border trucking deal will be done this year as the Laredo experience spreads across the state and the nation.


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