The administration implemented the pilot program last year to allow as many as 100 Mexican-based carriers to travel inside the U.S. President Bush has tried for years to open the border to cross-border commercial traffic, a stipulation of the North American Free Trade Agreement enacted in 1994. But his efforts were stymied, until last year, by legal challenges over the safety of Mexican trucks.
In a growing dispute, the Bush administration has continued the pilot truck program despite a bill passed by Congress and signed by the president last year that prohibits the use of the agency's funds to establish a program allowing Mexican-based trucks to operate beyond restricted commercial zones in the U.S.
The White House interprets the bill as permitting the pilot initiative and barring any new programs. But sponsors in Congress say it prohibits any such trucking initiatives.
Ending the program "would force American business to cancel lucrative contracts shipping products [to Mexico]...and such an end would cause a serious threat to many of our successful businesses," Peters said. "If Congress fails to keep its promise and instead ends the cross-border trucking program under the NAFTA rules, Mexico has every right to impose fees and tariffs on U.S. products."
Pressed later by reporters, Peters said she had not had direct conversations with the Mexican government about whether it was considering retaliation if the program is eliminated.
Also on Monday, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) joined other senators and House lawmakers in sending a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting an investigation into whether the transportation agency has violated the law for funding the Mexican truck pilot program.
"The Department of Transportation is not above the law," Dorgan said. "When Congress passes a law that says no funds can be used for this program, we mean no funds can be used for this program."
He added that the agency "cannot simply pick and choose which laws they want to follow and which laws they want to break."