White House proposals to set up a new security agency won't hinder foreign trade US business leaders were told yesterday.

Homeland Security director Tom Ridge yesterday said the new Department of Homeland Security would, in fact, make it easier to export and import goods.

He added that maintaining the free flow of goods across borders was an important national interest. "Part of what we need to do as Americans to secure ourselves is to continue to foster economic development," he said.

The new department would provide a home for 22 existing federal agencies, including the Customs Service, Secret Service, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The agency said more than 16 million containers arrive in the United States by ship, truck and rail each year. In 2001, the Customs Service processed more than 214,000 vessels and 5.7 million sea containers.