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Canada, US sign historic border pact

OTTAWA, Ont. - The new Beyond the Border perimeter security and trade agreement, announced jointly by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barack Obama during a press conference Dec. 7, aims to streamline both travel and...

OTTAWA, Ont. – The new Beyond the Border perimeter security and trade agreement, announced jointly by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barack Obama during a press conference Dec. 7, aims to streamline both travel and cross-border business between the two countries, with pilot projects slated to start as soon as April.

The announcement follows the Beyond the Border talks of last February and months of consultations and discussions on trade and security.

Both countries, which have already been working together closely on security, retain the power to allow people and products into and out of the country.

During the press conference, Prime Minister Harper discussed the sharing of information about who enters and exits the country, and said that Canada will also adopt two US screening measures over the next four years: an electronic travel authorization for visitors who don’t need visas to travel to Canada, and a system to deny boarding to inadmissible passengers before they get on a plane.

The border security deal will also reduce duplication, said President Obama. Lack of harmonization in inspections and unaligned regulations are estimated to cost as much as $16 billion a year, officials said.

Highlights of the Beyond the Border deal affecting commercial transportation providers include the following:

Faster border crossings with commercial traffic getting more dedicated lanes and technology; wait times measured and posted ahead of border crossings; the agreement expands on programs to speed up border crossings for frequent and trusted traders, clearing cargo at the first port of entry; and companies will have a “single window” to submit data required by government for shipments. The cargo clearance pilot project will start in Montreal and Prince Rupert, B.C. by 2013.

Consumer health products that have already been approved in the US could be approved faster in Canada, with regulatory bodies sharing information and adjusting labelling standards to make it easier to market a product in both countries.

Under the agreement, border and law enforcement efforts will be more integrated, starting with a radio system that will work on both sides of the border, all the way up to integrated criminal and intelligence investigations. The two countries will also conduct joint investigations to target security threats.

The two countries have also agreed to set up emergency management plans, as well as guidelines on who and what gets to cross the border first following major emergencies like terrorist attacks or natural disasters. They will also look at programs to strengthen cross-border critical infrastructure.

The new border plan prompted a torrent of reactions from across the transportation industry.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance called the deal “a historic achievement that brings the Canada/US border into the 21st century.”

“This is a great day for the trucking industry and the trade community in both countries,” said David Bradley, president of the 4,500-member company trucking alliance.

Trucks are the major mode of transborder freight transport between the world’s largest bilateral trading partners, said the CTA. As such, the CTA was involved in consultations with both agencies responsible for drafting the Action Plan – the Beyond the Border Working Group and the Canada-US Regulatory Cooperation Council – proposing a number of doable measures the Alliance felt would improve trade facilitation and reduce unnecessary regulatory barriers, said the CTA in a release.

The Alliance said it also welcomed the Perimeter Action Plan’s mutual recognition of the two main “trusted trader” risk assessment programs – the U.S. Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and the Canada Border Services Agency’s’ Partners In Protection (PIP), because it had been “urging greater flexibility in how each program determined carrier and shipper access to FAST lanes into Canada.” Currently, companies must apply to both programs separately, despite the fact that the information required is identical.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce praised the plan’s focus on decreasing border delays and duplicative inspections for businesses.

“Christmas came a little early this year,” Chamber officials quipped, saying the plan should “provide enormous benefits to citizens and businesses in both our countries that have been affected by a border that’s become so much costlier, thicker and stickier in the last decade.

“By pushing our borders out and obtaining much better information on people and cargo before they have arrived on our shores, we will be able to do a much better job of intercepting threats long before they reach the Canada/US border,” the Chamber said in a release. “And by taking low-risk travellers and cargo out of the line, we can target our limited security resources where the risks are highest and speed up the border-crossing process for everybody.”

The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) says the new deal could save Canadian companies between $15 billion and $30 billion a year, while dramatically reducing the “wall of data” separating Canada and the US.

“This announcement is not about a common border; it is about an integrated economy and our shared vision for good jobs, increased investment and a higher standard of living,” said CME president and CEO Jayson Myers. “Canada and the United States do more than just trade with one another. We build things together. We innovate together. And now we must work together to create a collective future that puts manufacturers and citizens alike in the fast lane to prosperity.”

But Myers warns that much more work must be done to ensure the plan is fully implemented.

“The economic benefits of this strategy are more significant than most free trade agreements, and should signal that manufacturing is alive and well in North America,” Myers said. “Complacency, however, is not an option. Government has laid the framework and now businesses must lead the way in turning a good idea into action and bottom-line results.”

However, not everyone is convinced the new border plan will be easy to implement.

According to Christian Leuprecht, Queen’s University security expert and researcher with the Queen’s Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, “Talking about the border is a lot easier than actually doing something about (it)…People consistently underestimate just how difficult it is to find common ground on matters so complex as information sharing and overcoming legislative constraints such as different privacy regulations.”

He added: “In effect, a comprehensive deal would mean harmonizing visa and refugee policies, passing legislation to enable authorities from one country to enforce some law on the other country’s sovereign territory, share information on everything from people exiting the continent to overstays and deportees, and realize that the Mexican border now effectively becomes Canada’s southern land border.”

And the Liberals say the border deal, which was negotiated by the Conservatives, “doesn’t appear to address any of the irritants which have plagued Canada/US relations,” with Liberal leader Bob Rae reducing the plan to a “photo-op” for Prime Minister Harper.

“While we are all in agreement that an efficient border and the free flow of goods and people between Canada and the United States must be a key priority for the federal government, this deal doesn’t offer any real measures, and depends entirely on the availability of funding, which to date neither country has committed,” Rae said.

Rae said the border deal fails to address a variety of fundamental issues, including the reduction of bottlenecks and congestion at the border and improved border infrastructure; the affects of the “Buy American” provisions, which severely limit access for Canadian companies and small businesses to US markets; and the ending of “trade harassment.”

Rae also accused the Conservatives of negotiating the deal “in secret” and noted it could have a “significant” impact on the privacy rights of Canadians.

“Canadians are rightly concerned about what could be hiding in the fine print of the Conservative border deal,” Rae said. “Liberals will continue to press the government for answers, and push for solutions that will genuinely improve cross border trade and travel.”

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