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U.S., Canada sign 'smart border' declaration

OTTAWA, Ontario(CNN) -- U.S. and Canadian officials meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, pledged Wednesday to use new technology to secure their vast border while promoting and protecting trade.

U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge led a delegation to the Canadian capital to wrap up details of the Smart Border Declaration, signed Wednesday in Ottawa. The goal, Ridge said, is "to make North America more secure and more prosperous."

"I believe we've made excellent progress," said Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley.

Ridge said the plans will make it easier for the average U.S. or Canadian resident to cross the border. Officials are looking at using biometric identifiers -- fingerprints, voice recognition, or retina scans -- in travel documents to make it easier to identify people who've been cleared through a screening process. Travelers "who pose no risk" would be "speeded along their way," Ridge said.

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Ridge also announced that a pilot program suspended after the September 11 terrorist attacks would resume. The Nexus program, in place at the busy Port Huron-Sarnia border crossing in Ontario, operates similarly to an Easy Pass system, allowing pre-approved travelers to pass through checkpoints without delay. Plans also call for the Nexus program to be expanded to other checkpoints across the 4,000 mile border, Ridge said.

The Smart Border Declaration is based on four goals, Manley said: "the secure flow of goods, secure flow of people, secure infrastructure, and coordination and information-sharing in the enforcement of these objectives." The declaration includes a 30-point action list.

"Our aim is to have a seamless system allowing goods produced in a factory to move quickly and securely across the border," Manley said. New technology would be used to ensure the safety of the goods from factory to destination.

Last year, more than a quarter of a million people a day crossed into the United States from Canada, according to Department of Transportation Statistics. Cross-border trade is estimated at $1.3 billion a day.

Border safety came under intense scrutiny after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft signed an agreement with Canadian officials to bolster border security. The agreement called for 400 National Guard troops to be deployed over 43 border crossings. That agreement, signed December 3, also included increased cooperation on intelligence matters.

On Wednesday, Manley called the U.S.-Canadian border "a model to the world of what's possible in a neighborhood of nations when democratic governments put the best interests of their people first."


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