By  on August 5, 2008

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation is extending a cross-border trucking program with Mexico for two years after failed Congressional efforts to ban it because of safety concerns.

The initiative was implemented in 2007 and allows as many as 100 Mexican-based carriers to travel in the U.S. It also permits U.S. trucks to travel throughout Mexico.

The Bush administration has pushed the pilot program, arguing that it opens up new opportunities for U.S. businesses because 75 percent of trade with Mexico moves via truck.

The plan is supported by apparel importers that want to cut transportation costs by not having to transfer goods to U.S. trucks at the border. Importers shipped 2.8 billion square meters equivalent in apparel and textiles, valued at $5.4 billion, from Mexico to the U.S. for the year ended May 30.

“I am pleased with the success of our demonstration project, but the participation has been limited by the uncertainty of the project’s longevity,” said John H. Hill, Federal Motor Carrier Safety administrator. “A number of potential companies have been unwilling to invest the time and resources necessary to participate due to uncertainties concerning the project’s longevity.”

Hill said the extension would help “reassure” Mexican trucking companies of the program’s future and defended the safety of Mexican trucks based on first-year statistics.

The “uncertainties” stem from a battle between the Bush administration and Congress, where many Democrats have expressed concerns about the safety of Mexican trucks and drivers. Labor groups have argued the initiative threatens U.S. jobs.

Congress has tried unsuccessfully to ban funding for the program. A new legislative proposal this year to squash the program has stalled in the Senate. The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee passed a bill last week that would shut down the program by Sept. 6, but time will run out on the approval deadline because Congress is in recess until Sept. 8.

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