US Ambassador confirms FAST to be used in lieu of passport

ETOBICOKE, Ont. — One could sense that the Canada-U.S. relationship is stronger than it was a couple years ago in listening to U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins address delegates at the Ontario Trucking Association annual convention yesterday.

It could be as a result of a more U.S.-friendly government in Ottawa, but Wilkins made it clear several times his government’s commitment to maintaining the close-knit business relationship the world’s two largest trading partners share today.

“My focus and the focus of the Bush administration is to strengthen our relationship with our partner and friend,” he said at the convention’s opening breakfast. “I promise you, that’s not just words.”

Wilkins also confirmed that truckers would be able to use a FAST card as a substitute for a passport, which, under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) signed by Bush in 2004, will be required for both Canadians and Americans entering the U.S. by land after June 1, 2009.

The rule was supposed to take affect this coming New Year, but Wilkins said successful lobbying by businesses and trucking groups like the OTA convinced U.S. officials to delay it another 17 months.

Wilkins urged travelers and truckers to get their passports or FAST credentials as soon as possible, however. “A delay is only just that,” he said.

Despite a Democratic win in both the U.S. Congress and the Senate last week, the improved trade relationship between Canada and the U.S. is not in jeopardy, Wilkins told the audience. He also hinted that President Bush could veto any protectionist bills he didn’t agree with.

“I don’t think those who control the house and Senate can alone affect the trade relationship with Canada,” he said. “The president is still in charge, his policies are still being enforced.”

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