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Published: Saturday, 7/25/2009

Border skirmish

IT WOULD be ironic if the biggest lasting impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was severe damage to the economic relationship between the United States and Canada, our most important trading partner. But that seems to be what is happening.

Thanks to lasting jitters over border insecurity, restrictions have been steadily tightened. What was once a quick jaunt across what was called "the world's longest unguarded border" has now too often become a long ordeal, and both trade and tourism have suffered.

That's especially bad for this part of the world, because trade between Ontario and Michigan and Ohio make up the largest part of U.S.-Canada trade, with more of it going across Detroit's Ambassador Bridge than any other route.

In normal times, more than $1.6 billion in two-way trade moves across the border each day. But figures for January show that had fallen by 31 percent from the year before, a number too large to be merely because of the recession. A Canadian manufacturer of medical isotopes has complained his life-saving products have decayed into worthlessness waiting to get across the border.

The impact on tourism has been almost as deadly. Starting June 1, U.S. citizens have been required to produce a passport to cross the border, even for a quick meal or a trip to the Windsor casino. That has meant a dramatic fall in tourism. Traffic through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel is off 22.6 percent, and attendance has plunged everywhere from Stratford's Shakespeare productions to the Calgary Stampede. Much of this is attributable to the paranoia that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and to a newspaper story that falsely indicated that many of the terrorists had come through Canada. None did, but the damage had been done.

Since then, we have gone overboard on security, and while no known terrorists have been apprehended, both nations are suffering from self-inflicted economic wounds.

Lindsay Boyd, the former chairman of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, put it succinctly: "Unfortunately, the border [now] runs like a military crossing we respect the fact that the U.S. wants a secure border, but it can't be at the expense of the economy on both sides."

Last week, a joint report by both the Canadian and U.S. chambers suggested streamlining the process by offering pre-clearance of goods and people. That's a good idea, but both nations also need to add personnel to speed cargos through customs, and the passport requirement should be suspended, immediately. Any threat to either country from day-trippers is close to nonexistent.

The terrorist murderers of Sept. 11, 2001, intended to disrupt our economy and standard of living. The last thing we need to do is help them accomplish that task.



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