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Tariff tensions shadow U..S, Canada, Mexico trade pact signing

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Donald Trump teamed up with the leaders of Canada and Mexico on Friday to sign a revised North American trade pact, a deal that fulfills a key political pledge by the American president but faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Congress. The celebratory moment was dimmed by ongoing differences over Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, as well as plans for massive layoffs in the U.S. and Canada by General Motors.

 

PHOTO CAPTION: President Donald Trump, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, and Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Neto, left, participate in the USMCA signing ceremony, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Associated Press: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS)

 

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is meant to replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has long denigrated as a “disaster.”

The American Trucking Associations praised the new agreement.

“We commend the Trump Administration, Canada and Mexico for coming to an agreement to keep our nations’ borders open to trade and commerce,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “Signing this improved trade agreement will strengthen America’s relationships with our nearest neighbors and put us all in a position to grow the North American economy. That economic growth will be a boon to the American trucking industry – which already moves 82 percent of the freight that crosses the Mexican border and 68 percent that crosses our border with Canada – as well as to consumers in all three countries. “We urge Congress and their counterparts in Mexico and Canada to quickly ratify this agreement so we can begin reaping its benefits.”

Trump appeared with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at the Group of 20 nations summit in Buenos Aires for the formal signing ceremony. Each country’s legislature must also approve the agreement.

“It’s been long and hard. We’ve taken a lot of barbs and a little abuse and we got there,” Trump said of the pact. “It’s great for all our countries.”

Legislative approval is the next step in the process, but could prove to be a difficult task in the United States, especially now that Democrats — instead of Trump’s Republicans — will control the House of Representatives come January. Democrats and their allies in the labor movement are already demanding changes to the agreement.

Within hours of the signing, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the deal must have stronger labor and environmental protections in order to get majority support in Congress and “must prove to be a net benefit to middle-class families and working people.”

The three countries agreed to the USMCA just hours before a U.S.-imposed Sept. 30 deadline. Many trade analysts say the successor to NAFTA isn’t all that different from the old one, despite Trump’s claim that it would “transform North America back into a manufacturing powerhouse.”

While Trump hailed the revised trade pact, Trudeau was more measured and used the event to call on Trump to remove steel and aluminum tariffs the U.S. slapped on Canada and Mexico. Trudeau also referenced recent downsizing moves by GM in North America as a “heavy blow.”

“With hard work, good will and determination I’m confident that we will get there,” Trudeau said.

Pena Nieto, who will hand off to his successor Saturday, said he was honored to be at the signing on the final day of his administration, calling it the culmination of a long process “that allow us to overcome differences and to conciliate our visions.”

The new agreement requires that 40 percent of cars eventually be made countries that pay autoworkers at least $16 an hour — that is, the U.S. and Canada and not Mexico — to qualify for duty-free treatment under the trade pact. It also requires Mexico to pursue reforms of labor law to encourage independent unions that will bargain for higher wages and better working conditions for Mexican workers.

The signing came at the front end of two days of tough diplomacy for Trump. On the top of his agenda is a Saturday dinner meeting with Chinese President Xi Jingping that will determine if the two can ease escalating trade tensions. Before Trump arrived in Argentina he injected additional drama into the proceedings by canceling another high-stakes meeting, with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump opened Friday with a cordial meeting at the Casa Rosada with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, a longtime business acquaintance. Posing for photos in the gilded Salón Blanco, Trump spoke about their longtime personal relationship and said they would discuss trade, military purchases and other issues.

“We’ve known each other a long while,” Trump said, noting he worked with Macri’s father on real estate developments. The businessman-turned-politician joked that when he and Macri first met they’d never have imagined their future roles on the world stage.

Macri is hosting the summit as he struggles with problems at home. He is trying to halt economic turmoil that has caused the steep depreciation of the Argentine peso.

Trump, who arrived in Buenos Aires late Thursday, barreled into the two-day meeting by announcing via Twitter that he was canceling the planned meeting with Putin over Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian vessels. His agenda for the weekend includes meetings with world leaders, as well as a number of heavily choreographed group activities for the gathering of leaders of rich and developing nations.

The president canceled on Putin not long after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, revealed he had lied to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating a real estate deal in Moscow on Trump’s behalf during the Republican presidential primary in 2016. The news ensured any meeting with Putin would have put a spotlight on the special counsel’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow during the campaign. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.

One looming question is whether Trump will have a run-in with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman amid global dismay over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Saudi crown prince must have at least known of the plot to kill Khashoggi, who was critical of the Saudi royal family. Lawmakers in both parties have called on Trump to at least avoid the young heir apparent as punishment.

 

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The Nation

CVSA’s Brake Safety Week scheduled for September 15-22

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During Brake Safety Week, CVSA is highlighting brake hoses/tubing as a reminder of their importance to vehicle mechanical fitness and safety. (The Trucker file photo)

GREENBELT, Md. — The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Brake Safety Week is scheduled for September 15-22.

Throughout that week, enforcement officials will conduct roadside safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles throughout North America.

Vehicles with critical brake violations, or other critical vehicle inspection item violations, will be restricted from traveling until those violations are corrected. Vehicles without critical vehicle inspection item violations are eligible to receive a CVSA decal indicating that the vehicle passed inspection.

During this year’s Brake Safety Week, inspectors will be paying special attention to brake hoses/tubing.

While checking these brake system components is always part of the North American Standard Inspection Program, CVSA is highlighting brake hoses/tubing as a reminder of their importance to vehicle mechanical fitness and safety.

Routine brake system inspections and component replacement are vital to the safety of commercial motor vehicles. The brake systems on commercial motor vehicles are comprised of components that work together to slow and stop the vehicle and brake hoses/tubing are essential for the proper operation of those systems. Brake hoses/tubing must be properly attached, undamaged, without leaks and appropriately flexible. Brake hoses/tubing are an important part of the braking system so when they do fail, they can cause problems for the rest of the braking system.

“We all know how important a properly functioning brake system is to vehicle operation,” said CVSA President Chief Jay Thompson with the Arkansas Highway Police. “All components of the brake system must always be in proper operating condition. Brake systems and their parts and components must be routinely checked and carefully and consistently maintained to ensure the health and safety of the overall vehicle.”

Out-of-adjustment brakes and brake-system violations represented 45 percent of all out-of-service vehicle violations issued during last year’s three-day International Roadcheck enforcement campaign.

And, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 2018 Pocket Guide to Large Truck and Bus Statistics, brake-related violations accounted for six of the top 20 most frequently cited vehicle violations in 2017.

Thompson said the goal of Brake Safety Week is to reduce the number of crashes caused or made more severe by faulty brake systems on commercial motor vehicles by conducting roadside inspections and identifying and removing unsafe commercial motor vehicles from our roadways.

In addition to inspections and enforcement, outreach and awareness efforts by law enforcement agencies to educate drivers, motor carriers, mechanics, owner-operators and others on the importance of proper brake maintenance, operation and performance are integral to the success of this safety initiative.

In the 14 jurisdictions using performance-based brake testers (PBBT), vehicle braking efficiency will be measured using that tool. PBBTs determine overall vehicle braking efficiency or the total brake force over the effective total gross weight. The minimum required braking efficiency for trucks or combinations with gross vehicle weight rating above 10,000 pounds is 43.5 percent, required by § 393.52 of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and the CVSA North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria.

Brake Safety Week is part of the Operation Airbrake Program, sponsored by CVSA in partnership with FMCSA and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Diesel prices drop everywhere, and by more than a nickel in California

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The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide fell by 3.5 cents for the week ending June 17, to currently stand at $3.07 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

For the second week in a row, diesel prices fell in every region of the country, with California seeing the largest drop, 5.2 cents, to stand at $4.006 per gallon. This is in contrast to roughly a month ago, when California was seeing price increases while most of the rest of the nation was experiencing a drop in diesel prices.

Overall along the West Coast, diesel fell 4.9 cents this week, to $3.666. Not including California, diesel prices along the rest of the West Coast are down to $3.23 per gallon, down 23.5 cents from a year ago.

East Coast diesel prices didn’t drop quite as far. In New England, the price dropped 3.2 cents, to finish at $3.153 per gallon. The Central Atlantic region continues t have the highest prices on the East Coast, at $3.282 following a decrease of 2.6 cents. The Lower Atlantic saw a decrease of 2.5 cents. The price for a gallon of diesel there is currently $2.964, one of three regions where diesel has fallen below $3.

With a drop of 4.5 cents, the Midwest claims the second-lowest current price for a gallon of diesel, $2.957, well off the low-price leader, the Gulf Coast region, where diesel is now $2.820 after a drop of 2.3 cents.

The Rocky Mountain region also saw a sharp drop, 4.2 cents, to stand at $3.072, which is 26.7 cents lower than a year ago, the largest year-to-year drop.

On Monday, Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 70 cents, or 1.13%, to settle at $62.01 a barrel. U.S.-based West Texas Intermediate crude rose 23 cents, or 0.44%, to settle at $52.51 a barrel.

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

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Truck Driver: A job for some, a game for others

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When people ask me about my job, one of the most common questions is where we get stuff to write about.

I wish I could say we keep our company Lear Jet on permanent standby to whisk us from Little Rock to wherever the action is.  The truth is nowhere near as cool. We get most of it right here at our desks.  Some of it comes to us in the form of press releases. We find other stuff on the news wire services, like Associated Press. A lot of the rest of it, we get from Googling.  If we see something big or breaking, or cool and weird, we look into it.

My day usually starts with a keyword search of the world. A few days ago, it appeared that one item was by far the most important thing happening on planet Earth, at least under the headings “truck,” “trucking” and “tractor-trailer.” There were about a half-dozen websites posting on it. Immediately, I refreshed my coffee, then my fingers sprang into action to investigate.

Stop the presses, everyone, the story was about a new video game called Truck Driver due to be released in September. The game is produced by a Dutch company called SOEDESCO. Personally, I haven’t played a video game since the last time I ran out of quarters at the 7-Eleven. That was 1986, as I recall, so I couldn’t tell you if SOEDESCO is a major player in the game design world, but the press release and preview video for the game had apparently set the gaming world agog.

Apparently, this new game is going to put all previous truck driving video games to shame. “Really?” I thought. “There’ve been others?” I checked. Yes, there have — several, in fact. But this one promises to be the most realistic trucking experience available.

According to the official literature, some of the most exciting aspects of Truck Driver is you get to (and this is word for word): “Enjoy a trucking experience focused on your career as a truck driver, build stronger relationships with the local community with each job, customize your truck with tons of parts and tune it to your liking, explore a vast open world and watch it progress with you, navigate through beautiful landscapes and fully explorable cities.”

All without leaving mom’s basement.

I watched the preview video and read the literature. The premise of the game is that you’ve inherited a truck from your uncle, and the game is to become a successful independent owner-operator. You have to “interact” with fictional “customers,” building “relationships” by successfully hauling loads. The game features fun-filled challenges like backing up, hitching a trailer and pulling up to a fuel pump, and then traversing artificial highways and byways without crashing into stuff.

The first thing you do is pick your avatar. You can be male or female, white or black. All the choices are young, good-looking and incredibly fit, you know, just like real truck drivers.

I started to wonder if the game’s realism might be overstated. I had some questions the promotional video didn’t address. Does the game include being stuck at a shipper for hours on end? Do the challenges include finding parking for the night? How many braindead four-wheelers do you have to share the simulated road with?

Given the addictive tendencies of some of these gamers, is there a penalty for HOS violations?

On one of the websites that was sharing this major announcement, someone commented they looked forward to playing this game, right after they get done with “Hanging Sheetrock” and “Ditch Digging.” My reaction had been similar. Granted, as I said, when I left video games behind, they consisted of shooting space bugs, apes who threw things at you and round things trying to eat other round things. I know video games have gotten much more sophisticated and diverse and immersive.

Still, when I think of interactive fantasy play, hauling logs is never the fantasy.

I wasn’t sure how real truck drivers would react to this game. Would they find it ridiculous, maybe even insulting that their profession has been packaged into an oversimplified, sanitized game? Or that some of these passive dolts will think they now know all about trucking because they reached Level 4, or whatever?

If they really want to know what being a truck driver is like, hey, there are plenty of jobs available. They can pry their butts out of the La-Z-Boy and come find out.

Then again, it’s kind of flattering. Truckers often complain how disrespected they are, how people look down on them. The mere existence of a game like this shows that on some level, the opposite is true. Now, as always, the truck driver holds a certain mystique to outsiders. People are fascinated and intimidated at how you handle those enormous vehicles. You represent the romance of the open road. You’re mysterious in a cool way, kind of like a cowboy.

OK, maybe the game doesn’t show what it’s really like to be a truck driver. Maybe that isn’t the point. It’s about fantasy.

I looked to see if I could find any “pretend you’re a journalist” video games out there. Not a one.

If there is, I doubt I’d recommend it

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