What Does a Free Trade Agreement Have to Do with the Canceled Canadian Bike Tour?

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BELFAST, Maine -- Though Maine politicians and others are trying to brainstorm ways to get a group of 2,000 Canadian cyclists into the state, an official from Customs and Border Protection said Friday that such groups must adhere to the laws and regulations governing international travel for business.

Those regulations include the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to Shelbe Benson-Fuller of the federal agency. Though she could not comment on the specific situation with Velo Quebec, she said that any type of tour business must start in its home country, according to NAFTA.

"Whether U.S. or Canadian, you start together, cross the border together, do your business -- then leave together," she said. "Not crossing the border together, that's where the NAFTA labor law kicks in."

Velo Quebec organizers this week indicated that they would not be able to do that with the 2,000 cyclists who are expected to be part of the Grand Tour Desjardins, an event that they had intended to begin and end in Waterville after making a 600-mile circuit of Maine. They found that the mostly Canadian participants wanted to take their own transportation to Maine and join the group in Waterville, Alain Gascon, the event coordinator, said Wednesday.

The problem with that is that if the tour had begun in Maine, Velo Quebec or any other company would then have to obtain the correct work permits for its foreign workers -- such as the Canadian bike tour guides. Gascon said that it's the organization's practice to hire workers in the towns where the tour passes through to do work including cooking, cleaning and more, but 100 bike guides and other employees from Canada are crucial to the success of the operation. Getting those people the work permits required by NAFTA would be too expensive and difficult.

"We can employ a lot of people, but we absolutely need our team, our supervisors," he said.

He said Wednesday that Velo Quebec would "respect absolutely" the rules and policies that govern this kind of international endeavor. …