The U.S. and Mexico have established a working group to help find a solution to the trucking dispute that has hammered selected U.S. fruit and vegetable exports with retaliatory tariffs for more than a year.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Juan Molinar, his Mexican counterpart, announced the working group after a meeting April 12 in Monterrey, Mexico.

However, it appears final resolution is still some time away. There was no word of any specific solution put forward to the issue of allowing cross-border truck access.

Since March 2009, Mexico has put $2.4 billion in tariffs on 89 U.S. products.Mexico enacted tariffs of 10% to 45% on grapes, pears, onions, apricots, cherries, strawberries, dates and head lettuce as a result of the dispute. Those duties remain in effect.

Domestic opposition from labor groups and other interests has set back previous attempts to provide access for Mexican trucks to U.S. states, which the North American Free Trade Agreement mandated by 2000. Industry leaders were anxious for an agreement.

“It is obviously headed in the right direction,” said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash. “At the end of the day, it is results that matter for our pear growers and they continue to lose money every day until there is a concrete solution.”

U.S. pear exports to Mexico in January and February were down 27% compared with the same period a year ago, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

“The sense urgency is tremendous,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C. With processed potato exports facing a 20% tariff because of the dispute, U.S. growers are losing market share in Mexico to Canadian potatoes daily. “It is absolutely time to sit down in earnest and hammer this thing out,” he said.

Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm, said the meeting of cabinet level leaders in April may be a good sign for the meeting of President Obama and Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon in May.