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Canada-US border agreement: Giving government credit where it’s due

The “proof will be in the pudding,” “it’s results that matter,” “show me the money,” “the road is paved with good intentions,” are all expressions that could have been used to describe the...


The “proof will be in the pudding,” “it’s results that matter,” “show me the money,” “the road is paved with good intentions,” are all expressions that could have been used to describe the trade community’s reaction when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barack Obama formally announced last February that their two countries would be pursuing a new border/perimeter security agreement.

After a decade where those involved in trying to get goods across the Canada-US border were repeatedly promised a more efficient border in return for investment in greater security, but instead saw the border become an ever-thicker wall, a real barrier to trade, the trade community could be forgiven for its skepticism. What reason did we have to believe that things would be different this time around? What leverage would Canada have? Would the Obama administration, which had its own domestic political problems to deal with and an election looming, really get engaged? The border is a big issue in Canada, not so much in the US. Canada too would end up heading to the polls later in the year.  

Nevertheless, the announcement was welcomed; what choice did we have? And maybe, just maybe, with the leaders’ backing, maybe we could finally see some movement on what has euphemistically become known as the “low-hanging fruit.”

As it turns out, despite the odds, the Canada-US border agreement announced by the Prime Minister and the President just before Christmas was in my opinion a historic achievement that takes meaningful steps to bringing the Canada-US border into the 21st century. The leaders and the people they appointed to negotiate the agreement are to be commended. What is called the Perimeter and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan effectively balances security and trade imperatives while restoring a meaningful return on investment in the trusted trader programs and creating the opportunity for a more efficient and productive border.

CTA consulted extensively with both the Beyond the Border Working Group and the Canada-US Regulatory Cooperation Council, proposing a number of doable measures we felt would improve trade facilitation and reduce unnecessary regulatory barriers. The agreement delivers in several tangible ways.

Of the measures announced, perhaps the greatest bang for our buck is the agreement to harmonize data requirements to restore carriers’ ability to move Canadian domestic shipments in-transit through the US. This is something CTA has been pursuing for almost 10 years.

But, that’s not all. CTA applauds the fact there will be mutual recognition of the two main “trusted trader” risk assessment programs: C-TPAT and PIP. Up to now, companies have had to apply to both programs separately, despite the fact that the information required is identical.

As well, the two governments agreed to examine ways to allow FAST cards to meet requirements of other security programs, involving CBSA, CBP and other government agencies. We have always questioned why, for example, drivers need both FAST and TWIC cards.

A pilot slated for launch at the Port of Montreal will introduce an ‘inspect once, accept twice’ concept, where freight arriving at the North American border will only be inspected by one Customs agency but will be accepted by both countries. And, a pre-clearance pilot will be implemented at a land border (likely the Peace Bridge) by September 2012. We’ll have to make sure this doesn’t mean trucks will be stopped twice (leaving Canada and entering the US) but we look forward to working with governments and local port officials on this initiative to ensure optimum efficiencies are achieved.

The governments will undertake an inventory and assessment of the rationale and impact for the multitude of border crossing fees, including such irritants as the APHIS fees, long a bugaboo for truckers and traders alike.

CTA is pleased that funding has been identified for RFID, and anticipates that under the review of trusted trader facilities it could lead to expansion of FAST lanes and RFID technology for commercial lanes.

Finally, the plan compels the governments to find ways of ensuring inspections of pallets and other packaging materials is done away from the border and does not disrupt border operations.

Just as some of these measures require follow-through and additional work, it’s also true that not all of the issues CTA would like to have seen dealt with in the action plan were included, such as modernization of the rules governing the repositioning of foreign empty trailers and a common sense approach to dealing with residuals in trailers. But, even there, we are optimistic these issues will have their day.

The commitment to performance measurements and reporting publicly on progress on the action plan is a clear indication that this is the beginning of a process of improvements, not the end.


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