Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson is worried that U.S. border-security plans will create massive delays for hundreds of thousands of Americans and Canadians who cross into each other's country daily.
"Our trading relationship, our vast energy partnership, family and personal connections make our shared border a gateway to prosperity," he said in a recent speech in Minneapolis. "But, given recent developments, I have concerns that our border is becoming more of a checkpoint than a gateway."
Mr. Wilson told his audience that he is most concerned about a U.S. requirement that would require Americans and Canadians to present passports when they drive into the United States.
The law, known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), already applies to airline passengers. It was scheduled to include land traffic in January, but Congress demanded a delay because angry constituents complained about long delays in obtaining passports from the State Department. The U.S. extended the deadline for six months.
However, Mr. Wilson fears that, with 70 million border crossings a year and about $1.5 billion a day in cross-border trade, the passport requirement could cause backups that could damage tourism and other business. He is urging the Bush administration to accept other secure documentation, such as driver's licenses with enhanced identification technology.
"Without proper attention, WHTI could build barriers between our two countries, out long-standing friendships and community ties, as well as our integrated business interests," he said.
More than 70 percent of Canadian truck drivers have agreed to submit to background security checks in a U.S.-Canada program known as Free and Secure Trade (FAST), Mr. Wilson noted.
"In the just-in-time manufacturing world we live in, we cannot burden the supply chain with unnecessary delays, added costs or other factors that undermine productivity," he said, adding that layers of bureaucracy could add to the "thickening of the border."
"In the end," he added, "we want to ensure the least amount of disruption to the seamless flow of legitimate commerce and people."
Get a passport
Meanwhile in Canada, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins offered simple advice to Canadians planning to travel to the United States.
"Get a passport," he said in a recent speech at the University of Saskatchewan.
He also noted that the U.S. government has delayed the imposition of its WHTI program, but the requirement will be enforced later next year.
"What does all this mean?" he asked. "Very simply, it means that on both sides of the border, our governments recognize this is a time of transition, and, while the passport is the optimum document, everyone understands not everyone has them yet."
Mr. Wilkins explained that the border law is "still a work in progress."
"I am committed to making the border work, just as much as Canada," he said. "This is a vital interest to us. Once the WHTI is fully implemented, it will speed up trade and travel, not impede it."
Passports will help border guards who now have to "assess thousands of different kinds of state-issued birth certificates and driver's licenses," he said.
"Rather than thickening the border, [WHTI] will make it smarter, modern, efficient and secure."
U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins used his speech at the University of Saskatchewan to thank Canada for sending troops to Afghanistan.
"We all owe Canada a debt of gratitude for its role in Afghanistan," he said. "Thank you for volunteering to leave your homes and your families to carry liberty's light to some of the darkest corners of our world."
Canada has about 2,500 troops in the NATO mission and has rotated more than 15,000 through Afghanistan since the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban regime that sheltered Osama bin Laden.
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