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Demand for smart cards increased significantly worldwide last year, especially in North America, according to figures released Wednesday by the Smart Payment Association.

The Munich trade group, which represents four of the top smart card makers, said the number of cards its members delivered last year rose 24% from the previous year, to 420 million.

North America posted the highest regional growth rate, with smart card shipments increasing 45%.

The trade group said that demand was driven by the ongoing shift in many international markets to the Europay, MasterCard, Visa security format, which requires smart cards, and by increasing interest in contactless products.

Christoph Siegelin, the trade group's president, said in a press release that the growth rates "show a clear trend: the move of financial institutions towards innovative and more secure cards."

The trade group's members are Gemalto NV of Amsterdam, Oberthur Technologies SA of Paris, Giesecke & Devrient GmbH of Munich, and Sagem Orga, a Paderborn, Germany, unit of Safran Group.

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