WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Thursday put the Bush administration’s imminent plans to allow Mexican trucks into the U.S. on hold by ordering that an environmental impact statement be done first.

Mexico is the largest apparel supplier to the U.S., shipping garments made mostly from U.S. textiles. Now, northbound trucks are allowed to cross the U.S. border and unload their cargo in special zones to be picked up by a U.S. truck. Mexico requires the same system for southbound deliveries, in protest of the U.S. ban.

However, the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco may only delay, not stop, the opening of the border for full-fledged deliveries, mandated eight years ago in NAFTA.

President Bush in November took the first step toward opening the border by requiring Mexican trucks first become certified by the U.S. as safe. The process has been under way and a final open-the-border order was considered imminent.

However, trucking, labor and environmental groups, which had succeeded in lobbying the Clinton administration to keep Mexican trucks out, challenged Bush’s order.

The appeals court said the Bush administration acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" by only completing two of the three environmental impact statements required by U.S. laws before ordering the border open.

"Although we agree with the importance of the United States’ compliance with its treaty obligations with its southern neighbor, Mexico, such compliance cannot come at the cost ofviolating United States law," the appeals court ruled.

A spokesman with the Department of Transportation said administration officials are reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.

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