FAST to expand by end of year

by Ingrid Phaneuf and Lou Smyrlis

OTTAWA, Ont. – The Free and Secure Trade program, otherwise known as FAST, is slated for expansion, government officials from Canada and the U.S. announced recently.

The announcement, however, comes amidst mounting concerns among carriers about the slow response from Canadian importers in joining FAST, which is designed to ensure faster clearance of commercial shipments at the border.

Six more high-volume commercial crossings are to be opened in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, while five more driver enrollment centres are to be added in New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. All should be open by December of this year, government officials announced at a May press conference attended by Minister of National Revenue Elinor Caplan and U.S. Bureau of Customs Border and Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.

“We’re moving swiftly to make our joint border more efficient and secure by focusing on people we don’t know, while speeding up the crossings of people we do know,” Minister Caplan said.

The FAST program allows commercial shipments to clear customs faster at the border. The program is already in place at six of the largest land border crossings and five driver enrollment centres.

The expansion will bring the number of commercial crossings to 12 and the number of driver enrollment centres to 10. Plans are also being developed to have all major commercial crossings between Canada and the U.S. FAST capable by 2004, government officials said.

The six new FAST ports of entry include: Rock Island-Stanstead Que./Derby Line, Vt.; St. Armand-de-Philipsburg, Que./ Highgate Springs Vt.; Lansdowne, Ont. / Alexandria Bay, N.Y.; Emerson, Man./ Pembina, N.D.; North Portal, Sask./ Portal, N.D.; and Coutts, Alta./Sweetgrass, Mont.

The five new FAST Commercial driver registration centres will be located in: Woodstock, N.B./Houlton, Me.; St. Armand-de-Philipsburg, Que./Highgate Springs, Vt.; Emerson, Man./ Pembina, N.D.; North Portal, Sask./Portal, N.D.; and Coutts, Alta./ Sweetgrass, Mont.

While the announcement of additional FAST-enabled border crossings is welcome news, it also underscores an unfortunate reality: The bilateral system of pre-clearance of low-risk goods requires the participation of not only carriers and their drivers but also the importers or exporters of those goods. And while carriers have been quick to invest in the time and resources necessary to become FAST approved, most shippers have been dragging their feet.

As of the end of May, about 270 carriers had been approved by U.S. Customs and Border Agency. Canada Customs had qualified about 100 with 227 in the pipeline. However, while 2,000 U.S. importers had applied for FAST only 90 of their Canadian counterparts had done so and only two had been approved.

Mark Seymour’s Kriska Group of Companies is one of the carriers that has become FAST approved.

“FAST will only work if the importer/exporter, the driver and the carrier are all FAST approved,” said Seymour. “If any one is not then you default to the slow lane and that defeats the purpose of these initiatives. We are very aggressively bringing these initiatives to the attention of our customers so that they are not holding up the process. Our labor force will not tolerate excessive lineups at the border on a regular basis, particularly when we’ve made them invest in their FAST cards. If our customers don’t commit, the entire initiative breaks down.”

The Canadian Trucking Alliance itself is urging Canadian importers and exporters to stop dragging their feet on FAST. Many carriers feel shippers have been slow to adopt FAST because so far carriers have absorbed all the costs involved with longer waiting times at the border. According to David Bradley, CTA CEO, that may soon change. He said the costs of border delays cannot and should not be borne by carriers that have joined FAST and made the necessary investments in security under the U.S. Customs Trade Protection Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) or the Canadian Partners in Protection (PIP) programs.

“We are beginning to see carriers charging shippers for these delays either through security surcharges, as ancillary costs, or through differential rates for FAST and non-FAST customers,” Bradley recently told a joint conference of the U.S.-based Border Trade Alliance and the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters.

FAST membership requires that drivers undergo security checks prior to approval for enrollment. For information on how to apply for FAST membership, visit a Canadian Customs and Revenue office or get further information on line at

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