The Obama administration has taken the first step toward renewing a pilot program that allows Mexican truckers to operate within the United States, as stipulated in the North American Free Trade Agreement, but still must work with Congress on fashioning a new program, according to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

"President Obama has made it plain that we would like to see this issue over the ability of Mexican trucks to move freely throughout the United States resolved as soon and as thoughtfully as possible," Kirk said at a news conference with Mexican Economy Minister Gerardo Ruiz.

In a 2009 appropriations bill, Congress blocked funding for the pilot program, but the Obama administration persuaded legislators to consider a reworked program.

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"With the offending language now being removed from the most recent appropriations bill, we have at least the green light to go forward and start those consultations with Congress" and other interested parties, Kirk said.

U.S. trucking groups have said the Mexican trucks aren't safe. Mexico says the vehicles are regularly inspected at the border, and that the violation of the NAFTA trade agreement amounts to U.S. protectionism.