Thursday, August 09, 2007

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Transatlantic travellers’ trials

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Transatlantic travellers’ trials
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: August 8 2007 20:21 | Last updated: August 8 2007 20:21

The European Union’s frustration with the new US visa law is pal pable. Washington has produced a measure that perpetuates a two-tier system for allowing entry into the US from EU countries, and imposes a new obligation on those with more favoured status to register their travel plans. Travellers to the US will suffer from the new restrictions, but so will the US itself.

The proposals stem from the in dependent commission into the terrorist attacks of 2001, which reported three years ago. The intense desire to prevent another attack is understandable and explains why the measures have commanded wide political support in Washington. Yet extra security measures come at a high price, as the US has already discovered.

In recent years, travel to the US, excluding Mexico and Canada, has fallen while cross-border travel generally has risen. So US companies have lost billions of dollars of potential business. The drop in foreign visitors has also indirectly damaged the US’s reputation: research suggests foreigners who have visited America have a more favourable view than those who have not.

The new measures could be hugely burdensome. The electronic traveller authorisation scheme demands that foreigners from the 26 developed countries whose citizens do not need visas to enter the US give advance notice of their plans to visit. This does not have to be a nightmare – Australia has operated such a system for more than 10 years – but many aspects of the US scheme have not yet been settled and the background to the new act is not encouraging. Another sweeping provision requires all air and sea cargo heading for the US to be screened before being shipped. This would be onerous and expensive, and may be simply unfeasible.

It is true that the law also adds to the countries in the visa waiver programme and slightly relaxes the test for new applicants for the programme. But including the Czech Republic is not the same as providing equal treatment across New Europe – the EU countries in central and Eastern Europe. States such as Poland and Hungary must surely have expected a more positive response for their support for the US in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So it is no wonder the EU is thinking of putting US passengers to Europe through a similar registration process. This would be a mistake. Retaliation is not the right basis for making security policy. The US should recognise the antagonism its new visa law has aroused, and show greater dexterity and adroitness in implementing the law than it did in passing it.


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