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Mexican Senate votes overwhelmingly to ratify USMCA

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Trucks line up to cross into the United States at the border in Tijuana, Mexico. In the first quarter of 2019 the two countries did $203 billion in two-way trade, making Mexico the United States' No. 1 commercial partner for the first time, ahead of Canada and China, according to the Mexican Economy Department. (Associated Press: HANS-MAXIMO MUSIELIK)

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to ratify a new free trade agreement with the United States and Canada, making it the first of the three countries to gain legislative approval.

Mexico’s upper chamber voted 114-4 with three abstentions in favor of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. It will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which U.S. President Donald Trump had threatened to withdraw the United States from if Washington did not get a better deal.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in a recorded message that the vote was “very good news.”

“It means foreign investment in Mexico, it means jobs in Mexico, it means guaranteeing trade of the merchandise that we produce in the United States,” he said.

The treaty does not need to be approved by Mexico’s lower house. It is still awaiting consideration by lawmakers in the United States and Canada, however.

“Congratulations to President Lopez Obrador — Mexico voted to ratify the USMCA today by a huge margin. Time for Congress to do the same here!” Trump tweeted.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in a statement applauded Mexico’s ratification as “a crucial step forward.”

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear praised the Mexican Senate’s approval of USMCA.

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear lauded Mexico’s action.

“Mexico’s action in ratifying the USMCA is a critical step forward in putting this important trade agreement in place,” Spear said. “Ensuring free and fair trade with our closest neighbors is critical to the trucking industry, which moves $772.3 billion worth of goods across our borders with Mexico and Canada. “Trade with these two countries alone supports nearly 90,000 Americans in trucking-related jobs and generates $12.62 billion in revenue for our industry. We encourage Congress to move forward on ratifying this important agreement so all three nations may continue to share in the benefits that trade creates.”

Ratification of the deal still faces some opposition in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

One lawmaker pointed directly to partisan politics as the cause of the opposition.

“There’s too much at stake for our farmers to let this opportunity pass by. USMCA will expand economic opportunity in the heartland,” Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., wrote in the Washington Examiner. “However, as things stand, USMCA is being held hostage by career politicians in Washington who are hell-bent on preventing President Trump from getting a win. A delay in approval of this agreement will hit the wallets of family farms in Illinois and across the country.”

The United States is by far Mexico’s biggest export market and its easy passage through the legislature had been expected. The approval came after Trump threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods if López Obrador didn’t reduce the flow of U.S.-bound illegal immigration from Central America, a threat that was later suspended.

The USMCA was hammered out last year by delegations representing then-President Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and then-President-elect López Obrador, of the left-leaning Morena, ensuring that both the outgoing and the incoming administrations were on board. López Obrador took office Dec. 1, a day after the agreement was signed.

Mexican lawmakers had already executed a series of labor reforms that the U.S. had demanded.

Mexico’s economy ministry said that with Senate approval “Mexico sends a clear message in favor of an open economy and of deepening its economic integration in the region.”

Mexico’s peso strengthened moderately against the dollar to 19.03 Wednesday, though the main factor was the U.S. Federal Reserve signaling that it was prepared to cut interest rates if needed to protect the U.S. economy, according to Gabriela Siller, economic analysis director at Banco BASE.

The United States buys about 80% of Mexican exports, some $358 billion worth last year. In the first quarter of 2019 the two countries did $203 billion in two-way trade, making Mexico the United States’ No. 1 commercial partner for the first time, ahead of Canada and China, according to the Mexican Economy Department.

Sen. Ricardo Monreal, leader of the governing party in the Senate, said the vote was “an important step to diminish the existing uncertainty for North American trade.”

 

 

 

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Can you say oversized load!

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That is big!

 

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Diesel prices all but stagnant nationwide, less than 2-cent shift anywhere

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The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide fell by 0.7 cents for the week ending July 22, to currently stand at $3.044 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The lack of movement in diesel prices continues a pattern that has been going on for the past month. On June 24, diesel was at 3.042, with changes of less than 1.5 cents every week in between.

Though tiny, the movement in diesel prices was nearly unanimous this past week, down in all but one region of the country.  That one exception was the Rocky Mountain region, where diesel rose 0.3 cents, to $2.978. Year-to-date, diesel prices are lower in every region, with the Rocky Mountain region again being the standout, having the greatest difference, 39.1 cents from this time last year.

California made it a clean sweep for lower diesel prices year-to-date with a drop of 1.3 cents this past week, to $3.939, still by far the highest in the country, but 0.4 cents below this time last year.

Along the rest of the West Coast, diesel dropped 1.1 cents to $3.198, bringing the overall West Coast average to $3.611 per gallon.

The average along the East Coast is currently $3.072, with prices highest in the Central Atlantic, where diesel is going for $3.259 after a 1.3-cent drop. Diesel is $3.122 in New England following a decrease of 0.9 cents over the past week, while in the Lower Atlantic region diesel slipped by 0.4 cents to stand at $2.937 per gallon.

That’s still slightly better than the Midwest, where diesel is going for $2.948 per gallon after a drop of 0.8 cents. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast, the low-price leader in diesel, fell by the same 0.1 cent it gained the week before to stand at $2.804.

On Monday, increasing tensions between Iran and Western countries failed to produce a sharp reaction in the crude oil markets. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 98 cents, or 1.57%, to settle at $63.45 a barrel. U.S.-based West Texas Intermediate crude rose 59 cents, or 1.06%, to settle at $56.22 a barrel.

Click here for a complete list of average prices by region for the past three weeks.

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DOL opinion letter: Time in sleeper berth does not count as compensable time

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The Department of Labor says the time a truck driver spends in the sleeper berth is not compensable time. Pictured in the Peterbilt 579 UltraLoft sleeper berth. (Courtesy: PETERBILT MOTORS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor said Monday said it had determined that time spent in the sleeper berth by professional truck drivers while otherwise relieved from duty does not count as compensable time.

The DOL issued the determination in a written opinion letter by the department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) on how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by the individual person or entity that requested the letter.

The American Trucking Associations lauded the opinion.

“ATA welcomes Monday’s opinion letter from DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton that concluded time spent by a commercial driver in the sleeper berth does not count as compensable hours under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, unless the driver is actually performing work or on call,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “This opinion, which is consistent with decades-old DOL regulations, the weight of judicial authority, and the long understanding of the trucking industry, clears up confusion created by two recent court decisions that called the compensability of sleeper berth time into question.

Significantly, this opinion letter provides new guidance, the DOL said.

Under prior guidance, the DOL said WHD interpreted the relevant regulations to mean that while sleeping time may be excluded from hours worked where “adequate facilities” were furnished, only up to eight hours of sleeping time may be excluded in a trip 24 hours or longer, and no sleeping time may be excluded for trips under 24 hours.

“WHD has now concluded that this interpretation is unnecessarily burdensome for employers and instead adopts a straightforward reading of the plain language of the applicable regulation, under which the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumptively non-working time that is not compensable,” the opinion letter said. “There may be circumstances, however, where a driver who retires to a sleeping berth is unable to use the time effectively for his or her own purposes. For example, a driver who is required to remain on call or do paperwork in the sleeping berth may be unable to effectively sleep or engage in personal activities; in such cases, the time is compensable hours worked.”

The ATA commended Acting Secretary Patrick Pizzella and Stanton for adopting a straightforward, plain-language reading of the law, rather than the burdensome alternative interpretation embraced by those outlier decisions.

“ATA also commends the department for making guidance like this available through opinion letters, which provide an opportunity for stakeholders to better understand their compliance obligations prospectively, rather than settling such matters only after the fact, through costly and wasteful litigation,” Spear said.

 

 

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