Mexico Sends First Long-Haul Trucks into the U.S.

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MEXICO CITY (AP) - Two Mexican tractor-trailers have become the first trucks to operate deep in the United States under a NAFTA-mandated program that's been criticized on both sides of the border.

The trucks crossed into the United States carrying steel construction materials to New York and South Carolina and will haul similar products from Arkansas and Alabama back across the border.

The United States granted the permission Thursday as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In turn, Mexico granted authority to an El Paso company to travel throughout Mexico.

Since 1982, Mexican trucks have been allowed to operate in the United States only within a 25-mile zone along the border.

Unrestricted access was supposed to begin in 1995, but truckers and other groups on both sides of the border have objected to the program.

In the U.S., several groups have argued that Mexican trucks don't meet safety and environmental standards and that there wouldn't be enough oversight of drivers crossing the border.

In Mexico, truckers have argued that most Mexican companies are not ready for cross-border long-haul trips because the government has failed to help them modernize.