Canada and the United States signed a declaration aimed at developing a "smart border" on Wednesday, and Foreign Minister John Manley promised quick action to improve security and the flow of trade.
"The security of our two countries will be strengthened by the action plan," Mr. Manley said at a news conference with U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge in Ottawa.
The two countries pledged to work toward a "smart border" using new technology and methods to ensure that goods and people can get across more quickly, but that security is not compromised.
Border delays since Sept. 11 have worried industries that depend on cross-border trade, and business groups warn that Canada's export-dependent economy is threatened. The two countries do almost $500-billion in trade a year.
"We want to make it easier for the average Canadian or American to cross the border," Mr. Ridge said. He said "smart technology," biometric identifiers and expanded information-sharing between the two countries will make it easier to let risk-free travellers through, while catching criminals or terrorists.
Wednesday's declaration includes a 30-point action plan, but it is largely a document that sets out goals for talks on the border.
Other side agreements have also been signed by various Canadian and U.S. agencies to co-operate more closely on border issues.
The two countries also announced the restarting of the Nexus pilot project, which fast-tracks prechecked travellers across the border from Sarnia, Ont., to Port Huron, Mich. It was suspended Sept. 11.
National Revenue Minister Martin Cauchon told Wednesday's news conference that the next step was to negotiate expanding Nexus to other land crossings.
Some of things the "smart border declaration" pledges both countries to do are:
- develop a "secure card" for permanent residents
- to review screening of refugee claimants
- share passenger lists on flights between Canada and the United States
- jointly develop an "automated immigration database" as well as share customs data
- develop an "integrated approach for processing truck, rail and marine cargo away from border"
- "establish criteria for the creation of small, remote joint border facilities"