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Opposition grows to US-Canada border passport plan

Written by: Staff
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NEWPORT, R I, May 14 (Reuters) Five Canadian provinces and six Northeast US states agreed to fight US legislation that would require passports or sophisticated ID cards to enter the United States from Canada.

The new rules to take effect from 2008 -- aimed at tightening security after the September. 11 attacks -- would create a bureaucratic nightmare, damage trade and shake up border life, said the US states and Canadian provinces yesterday.

''The impact would just be devastating,'' Quebec Premier Jean Charest told the annual Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

''This needs further thought before it's implemented. We need to bring a real sense of urgency to this,'' he said.

Porous in vast stretches and often invisible, America's 8,900-km border with Canada is drawing closer scrutiny after US President George W Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed in March to work together on border security.

Residents in some towns on the world's longest undefended border have long entered the United States with little more than a wave of a hand or a flash of a driver's license.

Under rules written by the US State and Homeland Security departments designed to implement legislation passed by Congress in 2004, passports or credit card-sized PASS cards with biometric features will be required for anyone crossing into the United States from Canada by land starting on Jan. 1, 2008.

Senior officials from the five Canadian provinces and US border states said the rules could drive a wedge between border communities that are culturally and economically entwined, and strain the world's biggest trading relationship by slowing the 1.1 billion dollar in trade flowing each day across the border.

More than 300,000 people travel between the United States and Canada each day. Only about 20 percent of US citizens and 40 per cent of Canadians hold passports, which cost nearly 100 dollars. The PASS cards would cost about half that price.

In a draft statement released at the end of the two-day conference, the governors or senior officials from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, and the premiers of Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island said they would urge the US Congress to delay implementation of the law.

They also agreed to explore other options that would have less negative economic and social impact. Only two states sent governors, although all sent representatives to the conference. Four of the five Canadian provinces sent premiers.

Vermont Gov. James Douglas said the new regulations would make daily life much more difficult along the border where children have long played sports in both countries.

Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri said: ''We shouldn't be thickening the border, what we should be doing is working together, the two nations, to protect North America.'' ''I think a lot of Americans don't fully understand or appreciate what is at stake here,'' he said.

REUTERS PG PM0440

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