U.S. reviving $5.50 tariff on Canadian travellers

Canadian and Mexican travellers are once again going to have to swallow a $5.50 tax if they enter the United States by air or sea.
Canadians visiting the U.S. by air or sea are going to have to swallow the return of a $5.50 tax that passed into law last Friday in a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)

Canadian and Mexican travellers are once again going to have to swallow a $5.50 tax if they enter the United States by air or sea.

A U.S.-Colombia free trade deal, passed last Friday, includes a clause that removes an exemption from the tariff for travellers from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Canada and Mexico had been exempt from the fee since 1997 under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but American politicians needing fresh cash for government coffers have resurrected it.


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

"Raising taxes at the border just raises costs on consumers," he said in a statement. "Canadian officials have raised concerns about the removal of this exemption at the highest level. We will continue to raise Canada’s concerns with U.S. lawmakers."

Last week, U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson told a business crowd in Ottawa that a Buy American clause wouldn't hurt Canadian business as much as continuing trouble in the U.S. economy. Jacobson said U.S. President Barack Obama's failed attempt at a stimulus bill would have improved the U.S. economy, which is the best way to help the Canadian economy.

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

NDP international trade critic Robert Chisholm says it makes him wonder what the government is doing in its negotiations.

"Why is it not paying attention? And clearly, the United States is not taking Canada seriously when it comes to these negotiations," he said.

"I was surprised and disappointed," by the government's answer that they hope the Americans reconsider, Chisholm said. "They keep being surprised by all these moves and I find it concerning."

Whether America or Canada charge travel fees doesn't affect the relationship between the two countries, Jacobson said.

"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," Jacobson said in a statement.

"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."