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Produce companies that lost sales because of Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs should mark May 13 on their calendar: It’s the deadline for sending comments to the U.S. Department of Transportation on a long-awaited proposal to restart its cross-border trucking pilot program.

On April 13, the DOT published details of a proposed three-year cross-border trucking program that comes after President Obama and Mexico President Felipe Calderon announced an agreement in early March.

Mexico has agreed to suspend its tariffs on 99 U.S. agricultural and industrial products once the pilot is in place. Mexico levied the tariffs after Congress killed the pilot program and commodities such as lettuce, apricots, strawberries, apples, pears and grapes were penalized as the debate continued.

The 20 percent tariff on fresh pears, cherries and apricots has cost Pacific Northwest growers an estimated $30 million, according to data from the Northwest Horticulture Council. “The estimated annual impact on Washington state apple exports is $44 million,” the group said on its web site.

The 13-page proposal set out the three stages that Mexican motor carriers participating in the pilot program would have to follow prior to receiving permanent operating authority.

The U.S. government will not grant operating authority to Mexican carriers to operate beyond the border unless U.S. carriers receive the same authority, according to the proposal. All vehicles and drivers must be approved by the United States prior to participating in the long-haul pilot program and must undergo security screening, carry liability insurance and undergo federal and state safety checks.

“This pilot program is one step toward restoring our trade agreement obligations,” Lee Mannering, government relations manager for the Produce Marketing Association, wrote in an April 15 blog. “For those in our industry who have faced the retaliatory tariffs and lost market share in Mexico, it’s also a positive sign that relief may be coming.”

The U.S. trucking industry also welcomed the news.

“This is good news for the U.S. businesses that have been hurt by Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs, including the trucking industry, and we look forward to the U.S. finally living up to its commitments under the North American Free Trade Agreement,” American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said in an April 11 statement.