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Obama, Harper agree to speed trade, traffic across border

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 6:20 PM EST, Wed December 7, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama greets Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper before a news conference Wednesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama greets Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper before a news conference Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The U.S. and Canadian leaders announce new agreements after a White House meeting
  • Increased security after the 9/11 attacks has slowed the world's largest trade partnership
  • The agreements bolster "perimeter security" to allow faster border trade and traffic
  • Obama also says the Keystone XL oil pipeline project will undergo a rigorous review

Washington (CNN) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced agreements Wednesday intended to speed up cross-border trade and traffic in the wake of enhanced security after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

At a joint appearance after talks at the White House, the two leaders said the agreements will address issues that have hindered the world's largest trade relationship between the North American neighbors.

The measures agreed to will "make it easier to conduct trade and travel that creates jobs and make it harder for those who would do us harm," Obama said of the so-called "perimeter security" enhancements.

Noting that 90% of U.S.-Canadian trade is by road, bridge or port, Obama said the agreements will improve infrastructure, implement new technologies and enhance cargo security and screening.

Harper called the agreements the "biggest step forward" in Canada-U.S relations since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"The best place to deal with trouble is at the continental perimeter," Harper said, adding that "trusted travelers should cross the border more quickly."

On another issue of mutual U.S.-Canadian interest, Obama said his government will conduct a thorough review of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from the Canadian oil sands of northern Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast before deciding whether to approve it.

His comments followed a recent State Department decision to extend the review into 2013 to allow consideration of environmental concerns raised by critics.

Republicans who support the pipeline called the delayed decision a political move that put off the issue until after next year's election.

Obama said Wednesday that the United States needs to "make sure that all the questions regarding the project are understood," and that he told Harper "we would have a very rigorous process to work through that."

Harper, whose government supports the pipeline, said Obama indicated that he is "following a proper process to eventually take that decision here in the United States, and that he has an open mind in regards to what the final decision may or may not be."

Earlier Wednesday, Republican leaders in Congress said they hoped Obama would tell Harper that he would quickly approve the pipeline project, which they say will help wean the United States off oil from other foreign sources and create construction jobs.

The State Department said it needs more time to study the pipeline, which would be routed through Nebraska's Sand Hills region and over the Ogallala Aquifer. The pipeline has been opposed by environmental groups, who fear it not only would risk spills but also would lock the United States into dependency on oil sands, a particularly dirty form of oil.

Pipeline supporters, including many in the business community, the construction trades and nearly everyone in the oil industry, said the United States could use the 700,000 barrels a day the pipeline could carry. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the delay cost more than 20,000 new jobs.

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