FAST program moves forward but CTA still has concerns
On Sept. 9, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and President George W. Bush met at the Ambassador Bridge that links Windsor and Detroit and, in addition to other border issues, announced the opening of carrier registration for the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program.
For our industry, this is a significant step forward in efforts by the two governments to introduce bilateral programs to expedite the flow of commercial traffic across the Canada-U.S. border.
The FAST program partners the governments of Canada and the U.S. with the private sector to ensure a secure supply chain for low-risk goods which officials from both countries have been developing in consultation with trucking and other business associations on both sides of the border for the past several months.
Simple clearance process
FAST provides a simpler clearance process for lower-risk shipments – those imported by pre-authorized importers and carried by pre-authorized drivers and carriers.
By October, a joint registration process will be available to drivers and beginning in December, Canada and the U.S. will jointly offer pre-authorized drivers, carriers and importers expedited customs clearance processes at the following major crossings: Douglas/Blaine, Windsor/Detroit, Sarnia/ Port Huron, Fort Erie/ Buffalo, Queenston/Lewiston, and Lacolle/Champlain.
By value, about 70 per cent of Canada-US trade moves by truck and the busiest border crossings in southwestern Ontario, south of Montreal and south of Vancouver handle the lion’s share of that traffic. Approved participants will use a dedicated “fast lane,” which is intended to significantly expedite the processing of shipments and reduce the amount of trade compliance verification that is done at the border. This should allow front-line customs officials to focus on higher-risk traffic.
FAST is designed from the framework of the existing unilateral supply chain security programs, Canada’s Customs Self Assessment and Partners in Protection (CSA/PIP) and the U.S.-based Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT).
Participation in the FAST program is open to those drivers, carriers and importers who have been pre-authorized by Canada and the U.S.
Carriers and importers must have a demonstrated history of complying with all relevant legislative and regulatory requirements, will have in place the security-enhancing business practices required by the U.S. C-TPAT and/or Canadian PIP program(s), and, in the case of carriers seeking FAST clearance into Canada, will have the necessary business processes required of a customs self-assessment regime.
At this stage, CTA is awaiting final details on various aspects of FAST, but based on what has been announced so far, there are two major issues that cause us concern: the associated costs of truck driver registration/security checks and the need for border infrastructure improvements so that pre-cleared trucks can move quickly through dedicated lanes.
On the issue of truck driver registration, the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the American Trucking Associations were recently in contact with Robert Bonner, Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service and Rob Wright, Commissioner of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.
We pointed out that our associations do not question the rationale behind voluntary driver background checks for those who wish to obtain expedited clearance at the border, and in fact some 30,000 Canadian and American drivers have already applied to CCRA’s Commercial Driver Registration Program (CDRP).
However, one of the key distinctions between CDRP and the proposed bilateral FAST card is that a processing fee will be charged, which government officials have suggested will be US$50 or C$80. Further, we have been told that drivers will have to renew these cards every two years.
Discussions with Canadian and U.S. officials so far indicate that the level of the processing fee is non-negotiable, and while our associations do not support yet another charge on trade, we are hopeful that steps can be taken to attenuate the impact on the industry. Specifically, CTA and ATA have proposed that the two-year validity period of the FAST card be extended to five years. This would:
Lessen the financial and administrative burden on the industry
Reduce the workload of the respective customs agencies
Bring the time period into line with that of NEXUS and most provincial and state driver’s licences.
On the infrastructure issue, CTA has long been raising the need for dedicated access to border crossings. The FAST program is predicated on designated lanes for participating carriers, but the benefits will obviously be lost if trucks are backed up on highways or city streets waiting to get to the customs plaza. Without basic road and highway infrastructure needs being met, trucks will not be able to realize the benefits of the FAST program.
In the weeks ahead, CTA will actively pursue these issues so that carriers and drivers can obtain the maximum possible benefits from FAST.
– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
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