Ottawa (CNSNews.com) - The United States, Canada and Mexico agreed Monday on ways to help speed up the movement of people and goods between them, including a plan to identify and facilitate the movement of "trusted" travelers moving between the three.
Ministers responsible for homeland security and commerce from the three countries met in Ottawa for a one-day meeting to follow up on the March summit in Waco, Texas between President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.
At that meeting, the three leaders launched what they called the "Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America."
Monday's ministerial meeting in Canada was the first to put some meat on the plan.
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, who also holds the public safety portfolio, hailed the meeting as a successful first step toward increasing the flow of goods and people and tightening security.
The ministers are due to meet every six months from now to update and improve the cooperation.
"Keeping North America safe and secure means taking steps to protect North America from external threats, preventing and responding to threats within North America and further streamlining the secure movement of low-risk traffic across our shared borders," McLellan told a joint press conference with her U.S. and Mexican counterparts.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff added: "We are building upon the strong relationships between our countries to further our common security goals and achieve transformational improvements.
"Security and prosperity must go hand in hand," said Chertoff.
The ministers hailed a plan that has been developing for some time to speed up cross-border movements of what the Canadians call "North American trusted travelers."
Currently, the U.S. and Canada have two pilot projects for frequent cross-border travelers: NEXUS for airline passengers and FAST for land crossings. The plan is to extend this to maritime passengers (dubbed the SENTRI program) and to have all three "trusted traveler" programs cover all three North American countries.
On the security side, the three governments have also agreed to improve the screening of both individuals and goods entering and leaving North America, and to share real-time information on high-risk individuals and cargo.
Many of the reforms being planned or implemented will be handled through the regulatory process in an effort to avoid the often cumbersome legislative system.
The ministers said they had completed modifying rules of origin covering such goods as household appliances, precious metals and some machinery and equipment parts. This "reduces administrative burdens by making it easier for exporters to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA."
The changes would affect $20 billion of annual trilateral trade, they said in a report.
Still to come is a plan to make it easier for professionals in any of the three countries seeking temporary work permits in any of the others.
Canada's McLellan called the overall program "a huge work plan of over 300 specific concrete measures."
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