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First Mexican Truck To Enter U.S. Interior Headed To Garland

LAREDO (AP) -- Nearly two decades after the North American Free Trade Agreement, a Mexican truck hauling electronics was to become the first to deliver goods deep inside the U.S. as part of a long-delayed provision of NAFTA.

The shipment to Garland was expected to cross the border around midday Friday, beginning a trucking program that has been stalled for years by concerns that it would put highway safety and American jobs at risk.

Hours before a ceremony to mark the occasion, Mexico announced it was canceling punitive tariffs imposed on American goods over the U.S. refusal to allow the trucks. But the Mexican government warned that if the accord is not respected by the United States, the tariffs could be reinstated.

Mexico planned to hold a ceremony in the border city of Nuevo Laredo before the truck crosses the border to celebrate the fulfilling of the agreement, though 11 years late.

NAFTA, signed in 1994, had called for Mexican trucks to have unrestricted access to highways in border states by 1995 and full access to all U.S. highways by January 2000. Canadian trucks have no limits on where they can go.

But until now, Mexican trucks have seldom been allowed farther than a buffer zone on the U.S. side of the border, where their cargo was typically transferred to American vehicles.

The public debate surrounding the accord had mostly focused on the safety of Mexican trucks. But labor unions and other groups were strongly opposed to the agreement because they said it would cost Americans trucking and other jobs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says the safety concerns have now been resolved. Electronic monitoring systems will track how many hours the trucks are in service. Drivers will also have to pass safety reviews, drug tests and assessments of their English skills. Mexico has the authority to demand similar measures from American drivers.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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