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The United States faces isolation from the cultural and culinary delights offered by French visitors because of a hiccup over US demands for new passports.

France is one of 27 countries which is a member of the Visa Waiver Program. This has allowed them, along with Britain, to drag their feet over US demands that passports include biometric information, a digital photograph and a solemn promise not to overthrow the US Government, embarrass the president any more than he does himself or start any hurricanes.

But, the FT reports, French plans have been scuppered by a devilish mixture of public-sector unions and the courts. The French Government was all set to outsource the making of the new passports to Oberthur Card Systems - a French smartcard maker.

But courts have now ruled in favour of unions which say the passports should be made by Imprimerie Nationale - the French national printer. The court has ordered production to stop.

Meanwhile, an anonymous US official has let their frustration show to the FT: "The US has been watching this as a train wreck in slow motion. The [French] Government has assured us and assured us and assured us that France would have the biometric passports."

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