TORONTO, Ont. — FAST cards will probably be an acceptable form of identification under the Western Hemisphere Trade Initiative (WHTI), David Wilkins, US Ambassador to Canada, told delegates at the Ontario Trucking Association convention last week.
“We certainly anticipate that the FAST cards and NEXUS cards will be acceptable documents under WHTI,” he announced during an address. However, he still encouraged Canadians to get a passport if they plan on crossing into the US.
“I urge all Americans and all Canadians to get a passport – it’s that simple. It’s the best possible solution,” he said. The WHTI program will require Canadians crossing into the US through land ports to carry a passport by no later than June, 2009. There was concern within the trucking industry that Canadian truckers without a passport would be turned back at the border. Those concerns have been somewhat alleviated by Wilkins’ announcement that a FAST card will probably suffice.
Still, he warned that a passport is still preferable and also hinted the deadline of June, 2009 could well be moved ahead.
“It’s up to June, 2009,” he reminded delegates. “It could be implemented earlier than that. (It could be implemented) as soon as everything is in place and ready to go and when the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State certify the technology and the manpower is in place for a smooth implementation at the border. It could happen before June 1, 2009.”
Wilkins added the US would support a Canadian initiative much like its own, to issue a cheaper and more compact option known as a passport card. So far there has been no indication the Canadian government is pursuing such an option.
He also had some strong words for those who have criticized the WHTI.
“I would respectfully submit to you that we all stop looking through the rearview mirror,” he said. “Stop trying to kill the plan, stop trying to slow it down or change it. If we all work together to make it the best plan possible, we would have a smart, efficient and secure border.”
Wilkins commended Canada for announcing it will arm its border guards and he also said the joint efforts of Canada and the US are resulting in a more secure border.
“I disagree with those who say we are less safe than we were before 9/11,” said Wilkins. “I respectfully submit to you that there is no number less than zero and thats the amount of times we’ve been struck by terrorists since September 11, 2001.”
In fielding questions from the audience, Wilkins said the recent mid-term elections should not have an effect on the Canada/US trade relationship, since the margins are so narrow in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
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