WASHINGTON — Mexico agreed Thursday to lift trade sanctions under a preliminary deal to allow its trucks on U.S. roads.
Mexico would eliminate $2.4 billion in punitive tariffs on pork, cosmetics, Christmas trees, chemicals, pet food and hundreds of other products.
"After nearly 20 years, we finally have found a clear path to resolving the dispute," Obama announced at news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Mexico would lift half the tariffs once the deal is final, perhaps by next month, officials said. It would erase the rest when the one of its trucking companies is approved to operate in the United States.
Unions and their allies in Congress have resisted the entry of Mexican trucks since the inception of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
Congress triggered the retaliatory tariffs two years ago, when it cut off funds for a pilot program of the U.S. Transportation Department that would have allowed up to 100 Mexican trucks on U.S. highways.
That violated NAFTA and, frustrated after years of stalemate, Mexico invoked its right to retaliate under the treaty.
U. S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the economic effect had been severe. "We had farmers, ranchers, growers from Texas, California, Florida to Washington who were getting hit by $250 million a year in tariffs," Kirk said. "We've had extraordinary loss of market share in Mexico."
Under the deal, Mexican trucks would be subject to U.S. safety and pollution standards. Drivers would have to obey U.S. work rules and pass drug and English-proficiency tests.
"We think we've struck a good balance that's going to put us in a position to have a safe program that meets concerns that were voiced by many in Congress," Kirk said.
The trucking dispute was one of many issues on the agenda.
Obama said the United States wants to extradite the suspect arrested in Mexico on charges of killing Jaime Zapata, an unarmed U.S. immigration and customs agent.
Another U.S. agent survived the Feb. 15 attack in northern Mexico. Authorities suspect the attack was the work of Los Zetas, a drug gang.
Calderon was noncommittal on extradition, saying the legalities must be reviewed. But he promised that "this individual will be brought to justice with the full weight of the law, whether that be in the United States or in Mexico."
He also refused to reconsider a law that bans U.S. agents and other foreigners from carrying weapons, a policy that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress this week he wants changed.