Monday, February 5, 2007

Wilson blasts US and a food inspection fee that U.S. Customs will start

Canadian ambassador says new U.S. trade, travel rules could hurt relations

Canada's ambassador to the United States warned Monday that an upcoming increase in rules on trade and travel across the border could hurt relations between the United States and its northern neighbour, which is also its largest trading partner and supplier of crude oil.

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians visit the United States every year and some are already holding off their travel plans as the two countries struggle to adjust to new border crossing rules, Michael Wilson said.

Wilson said Canada is worried about what will happen next year once passports are required at land and sea border points, an extension of the new rule that kicked in last month for air travellers long accustomed to travelling in North America with just a driver's licence or birth certificate.

"We are in full agreement with the motivation here," Wilson said of the measure that U.S. Congress passed in 2004 as an anti-terrorism effort. "What we are concerned about is the impact."

Canada wants the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to announce a specific date for the new rule and also a gradual phase-out of documents other than the passport, Wilson said after a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Some Canadians, including 2.2 million annually who visit Florida or even winter there as "snowbirds," might drop their conference and leisure travel plans until the rules are clearer, Wilson said.

As an example of the "thickening" of new border rules, he blasted a food inspection fee that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin collecting in March on all commercial conveyances to and from Canada, regardless of whether they transport food. That would also tack on a US$5 fee to airfare between the two countries, Wilson said.