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US reimposing travel tax on C'bean visitors

Published:Wednesday | October 26, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Caribbean, Canadian and Mexican travellers will now have to pay a US$5.50 tax if they enter the United States (US) by air or sea.

The new US-Colombia free-trade deal, signed into law last week, includes a clause that removes an exemption from the tariff for travellers from the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico.

Those countries had been exempt from the fee since 1997 under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but Canadian officials here say American legislators, needing fresh cash for government coffers, have resurrected it.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast said the Canadian government is disappointed with the new measure.

"Raising taxes at the border just raises costs on consumers," he said in a statement.

He said Canadian officials have raised concerns about the removal of this exemption at the "highest level".

"We will continue to raise Canada's concerns with US lawmaker," Fast said.

Last week, US Ambassador David Jacobson told a business meeting in Ottawa that a 'Buy American' clause wouldn't hurt Canadian business as much as continuing trouble in the US economy.

Jacobson said US President Barack Obama's failed attempt at a jobs bill would have improved the US economy, "which is the best way to help the Canadian economy".

Relationship unaffected

The return of the tariff comes as Canada and the US are supposed to be finalising the details of the Beyond Borders deal, which officials say will improve trade and security at the same time.

But Jacobson said whether America or Canada charges travel fees doesn't affect the relationship between the two countries.

"This fee is not in any way an action against Canada and will not have any effect on the progress of the ongoing discussions surrounding the 'Beyond the Border' initiative," he said.

"The elimination of the exemption was necessitated by the budget situation in my country. It is paid by American citizens and foreign nationals alike, just like Canadian citizens and non-Canadian citizens pay fees at Canadian airports," he added.