No one knows the Canada-US border and the difficulties even the most trusted individuals and companies have had crossing it in the “security trumps trade” post-9/11 world than the trucking industry.
Not surprisingly, then, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (perhaps with a well-earned and healthy degree of skepticism) welcomed the recent announcement from US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the two countries are embarking upon negotiations aimed at improved cooperation and coordination at the border.
Canada and the United States, alone or in partnership, cannot hope to compete with the emerging economies and/or other trading blocs, unless we have a predictable, reliable and efficient supply chain. The current state of the border is not conducive to that.
We have been calling upon the governments on both sides of the border to pursue a new shared/smart border agreement for some time and are hopeful this new process will lead to a better balance between security and trade imperatives, restore a risk management approach to the border and generate a meaningful return on investment in the trusted trader programs. To date, the “deal” that was proposed to companies and individuals who become members of the various trusted trader programs like FAST, C-TPAT, PIP, etc., – that they would get across the border even quicker than they were able prior to 9/11 – has not occurred.
The reason I say that we (and I believe the rest of the trade community shares in this) have a healthy degree of skepticism about this latest exercise is that we have been promised a better balance between security and trade facilitation a number of times over the past decade, only to be disappointed with the results. We sincerely hope the outcome will be different this time and are prepared to work with the Government of Canada to ensure this is the case.
We can’t dwell on the past; we have got to try again to move forward. It will be essential for the governments to consult with the businesses that are living the border problems every day. The problems cannot be dealt with at the 120,000-foot level by people who may have an interest in the border but have very little practical experience with it; the solutions will need to come from where the rubber meets the road. It is early days yet, but so far the level of consultation is good.
I don’t want to dampen expectations, but for anybody in the industry reading this, it is unrealistic in our view to expect a dismantling of the plethora of measures introduced in the name of security over the past number of years. We have not detected any lessening of US concerns and expect the Canada-US border will continue to be viewed as the first line of defence regardless of how much can be pushed to the perimeter.
Nonetheless, progress can be made in terms of better coordination and cooperation not only between the two countries’ customs agencies, but also between government departments on the same side of the border – the so-called single window concept – and in terms of mutual recognition of security programs for identifying trusted traders that are essentially the same in both countries. Canada also needs to look at some of its own border security programs to ensure that they are not even more burdensome than similar programs in the US or that they unnecessarily impede legitimate trade from taking advantage, for example, of the special lanes designed to expedite trade into Canada by trusted traders. Our government also needs to ensure that at the very least its regulations and the enforcement of those rules create at least a level playing field for Canadian carriers.
There are those who will decry the negotiations as a threat to Canadian sovereignty. Joint decision-making, better coordination and cooperation in terms of managing our shared border, and synchronized infrastructure investment and construction, leading to a stronger economy, enhances our sovereignty. We believe most Canadians get it.