Truck News


Bracing for Code Red

WINDSOR, Ont. - With the U.S. teetering on the brink of war with Iraq as Truck News was going to press, there is mounting concern among transborder carriers about the possible impact of a state of hig...

WINDSOR, Ont. – With the U.S. teetering on the brink of war with Iraq as Truck News was going to press, there is mounting concern among transborder carriers about the possible impact of a state of high-alert at the U.S. border.

Jim Phillips, president and chief executive officer of Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance based in Lewiston, New York, says that fears the border will close are overstated.

“No matter what happens, the borders won’t close,” Phillips says.

He refers to the recent re-assurances the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, made to the Canadian Coalition for Secure and Efficient Borders. “He told the leaders of Canada’s major business associations, including the Canadian Trucking Alliance, that, in the event of any hostility with Iraq, the U.S./ Canada border will remain open for business, especially for NEXUS-registered travellers or Free-And-Secure-Trade (FAST) compliant carriers and shippers.”

But carriers, for which transborder hauls have grown to represent more than 50 per cent of their revenues on average, should certainly expect changes at the border. “Under heightened alerts, there will be more checks, and you know any shipment, carrier or driver designated high-risk will be stopped and thoroughly investigated,” Phillips warns.

He notes that 61 Canadian companies and over 200 carriers have signed up for FAST. “They represent 50 per cent of the trade with the U.S., and they will continue to move freely over the border.”

Phillips explains, “Red Alert, unlike Yellow and Orange Alert, can be at a single region or border point, or off border at an airport, for example. Any place could have a Red Alert just for that facility or region. Or there could be a Red Alert for the entire country. None of that involves shutting the border down because if you shut down the economic activity between Canada and the U.S., the enemy wins.”

The sincere intent of government and industry leaders is to keep trade moving, but what is actually happening at the borders? Are FAST-compliant carriers zipping through in their own lane?

It’s not as simple as it seems. Challenger Motor Freight has just received its FAST certification, but only a handful of its customers are FAST-compliant.

Brad Bebbington, director of operations, says, “If your whole load of shipments are not FAST compliant, you can’t use the FAST lane to pass through. Everything depends on the traffic at the border at the time your truck arrives how quickly you get through. Post 9/11, we experienced 12 to 20-hour delays. Right now, on the odd day, you may get four or five-hour delays because of random inspections. Our drivers and dispatchers check delay times at the Canada/U.S. Customs Web sites a couple of times a day. In agreement with our customers, we counteract expected delays by loading four or five hours sooner so we can deliver just-in-time parts to the plants on time.”

Challenger’s customs specialist Karen Gallant adds more insights into the complexities of shippers and carriers complying with stepped up security requirements for FAST – a combination of Customs Self Assessment (CSA), Partners in Protection (PIP) or Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) plus for carriers, driver registration, which allows the U.S. to do background checks.

“Most of our customers are still in the process stage of being FAST-certified, and it can take up to three or five months to qualify. Our drivers have to be FAST-approved as well, and that takes six to eight weeks. Right now, there is no fast way through the border until trucks get through the bottlenecks at the border. Once at the Customs booth, if you do have your FAST card, you are processed much faster. Even though we’ve been approved, we’re still waiting for our FAST decals from U.S. Customs – we need about 1,000 decals for our fleet-and without these decals to identify our FAST approval, we’re at standstill.”

Gallant has sympathy for drivers, but she says getting registered is the cost of doing business today.

“The letter of application that the drivers get back from U.S. Customs states that they’ve been approved and they have to go to one of these bridges to make an appointment to see Immigration, but they only hold them at certain times because, so far, there haven’t been enough applications for Immigration to add more processing staff. The drivers do this on their own time and pay an $80 fee.”

In addition to registering for the FAST program, drivers who are landed immigrants have to get working Visas to the U.S. The application for them is an additional $100, and they have to go to the nearest U.S. Consulate to appear in person, while they fill out their applications in full.

“Getting registered takes all our drivers off the road,” adds Gallant, “so they are not earning any money. That’s frustrating, and many feel background checks are invading their right to privacy. Again, it’s the sign of the times, and we have to do what we have to do.”

Meanwhile, work continues on drafting new legislation for pre-notification at the border. In January, when U.S. Customs introduced strawman proposals that called for automated pre-notification of freight crossing the Canada-U.S. border four hours prior to loading, they were looking for an industry response, and they got it.

Consolidated protests from trucking and shippers’ associations on both sides of the border warned that the advanced timing of these new rules threatened North America’s just-in-time delivery systems.

Although U.S. Customs has now withdrawn these proposals, “we know that pre-notification is coming. What we don’t know is the amount of advanced notice that is going to be required,” says senior vice-president Graham Cooper of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

U.S. Customs is looking to the transportation industry to come up with workable solutions for establishing advance notice because they are not going to back down from mandatory pre-notification, especially now when the Bush Administration is so close to invading Iraq.

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