Wayne Reece (left) welcomed Mexican Consul General Salvador de Lara to his residence to speak on the benefits of Nafta.

As of June 1, citizens of Bermuda, Canada, Caribbean nations and Mexico must have a valid passport or other approved travel document to enter the U.S.

U.S. citizens will need the same to re-enter the country after travel to these Western Hemisphere destinations.

Currently, only air travelers are required to have a passport to get back into the U.S.  Land and sea travelers can use two separate documents, like a birth certificate and a driver’s license, to prove citizenship and identity.  

The June 1 change is a scheduled update to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a provision of a 2004 law aimed at ramping up border security in the hemisphere.

Brian Oak, Canada’s consul general for the Southeast based in Atlanta, said the first stage of the law, which required passports for air travel beginning in January 2007, caused confusion because it was not promoted properly.

“It caused a fair amount of havoc certainly in Canada and the United States,” he said, explaining that many people had to scramble to get passports before the deadline.

He’s hopeful that travelers have had ample time to prepare for this new stage, noting that his consulate has not been overwhelmed by new passport inquiries.

“I think there’s going to be good news; we’re going to see a fairly smooth transition into this new era,” he said.

Mr. Oak was speaking on the North American Free Trade Agreement with Salvador de Lara, his counterpart from Mexico, at an event organized by the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Global Commerce Council and the Georgia Council for International Visitors.

Both men outlined the economic benefits of the agreement and warned against emerging protectionist sentiment during the current economic crisis.

Mr. Oak said that while the new requirement applies to people coming into the U.S. from all North American countries, it’s extremely important on the Canadian side because of the amount of ground traffic between the U.S. and Canada.

“Many more people cross our 49th parallel by car than they do flying in or out, so the numbers are huge,” he said.

In explaining the benefits of free trade among the three North American powerhouses, Mr. Oak said that a trailer filled with goods crosses the U.S.-Canada border every second.

The three economies are so interconnected, “We don’t even talk about trade anymore.  We talk about making things together,” he said.

Mr. de Lara agreed, saying that the U.S. and Mexico traded more than a billion dollars in goods per day in 2008.

He said since Nafta was enacted in 1993, the number of trade disputes has fallen dramatically and all three countries involved have seen drastic economic growth.

During times of crisis, though, people tend to forget the data and gravitate toward ideas like the buy-American provision in the stimulus package passed earlier this year, Mr. de Lara said.

Protectionism would be a “big mistake,” he said.

“If something would propel out the economy when it starts to pick up again, it’s going to be trade, and to develop good trade, it has to be free trade.” he added.

That’s why Wayne Reece, principal of Reece & Associates public affairs law firm, hosted the Nafta event at his residence.

Mr. Reece, a co-chair of the Metro Chamber Global Commerce Council, said the council chose the topic because of its importance to the American economy.

He said he hopes to host discussions on relevant issues with other consuls general in the future.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...