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Few benefits seen for carriers in Canada’s FAST program

OTTAWA, Ont. - The benefits of becoming a registered FAST carrier in Canada are few and far between, at least according to the majority of carriers in attendance at a recent information/consultation s...

OTTAWA, Ont. – The benefits of becoming a registered FAST carrier in Canada are few and far between, at least according to the majority of carriers in attendance at a recent information/consultation session held by government officials in Toronto.

The meeting was one of a spate of sessions recently held across the country, on the subject of pre-arrival cargo reporting systems and FAST (Free and Secure Trade) membership requirements for Canada-bound carriers. Members of the land transportation community, including carriers, importers and brokers, were invited to give feedback on how cross-border programs such as FAST and CSA (Customs Self Assessment) are working for them right now, with a view to ironing out the kinks in the future, hopefully prior to the 2006 launch for carriers of electronic pre-arrival reporting via the government’s ACI (Automated Commercial Information) system. (The marine phase was implemented in April of last year.)

And officials from the nation’s FAST and CSA teams, none of whom were willing to be quoted without previous authorization from their government communications departments, were on site to give information about both programs. CSA is a pre-requirement for carrier and importer FAST membership in Canada, as is membership in the Canadian Partners in Protection program (PIP).

Carriers at the meeting, for their part, overwhelmingly agreed that the only benefit of belonging to the Canadian FAST program for the time being is getting to use dedicated FAST lanes coming into Canada.

And they were skeptical about whether the Canadian FAST membership will offer much more in the future, even when Canadian bound loads become subject to pre-reporting requirements. (FAST carriers registered with the U.S. program and carrying FAST loads driven by FAST drivers benefit from shorter pre-arrival time frames.)

“If the importer isn’t qualified, it won’t mean much to us,” pointed out a full truckload representative who preferred not to be named. “We still can’t get into the FAST lane.”

LTL carriers also expressed their reluctance to join FAST, now and in the future, for similar reasons.

“I could have 30 FAST qualified items on one trailer, be a FAST qualified carrier and have a FAST card carrying driver, but if the other 20 items aren’t FAST loads, there’s no advantage for me,” he said.

Many carriers also stated that importers just couldn’t see the advantage of joining FAST.

“When I tried to sell the idea to one of my importers, he just said he didn’t see why he’d have to do it if I’m already getting his loads there on time,” said the carrier rep. “I guess that means I’ll have to be deliberately late before he’ll join.”

Only 16 importers are currently approved for FAST (19 are just CSA approved), according to government officials. And while roughly 1,420 carriers have applied for the Canadian CSA/FAST program, only 381 were FAST-approved in December (the process takes two to six months on average). The FAST driver application backlog continues to be a problem on both sides of the border – government officials said that while 70,000 drivers have applied to date, only 27,000 have been approved. Officials at the meeting said the fault lay mostly with drivers who failed to complete their paperwork properly. (For more information on applying, visit

Carriers at the meeting suggested officials might have more luck getting importers to join FAST if they set a drop dead date for joining and refuse to allow loads that are not qualified to cross into Canada.

As for carriers joining CSA as a prerequisite to joining FAST – more than one felt the demands for information placed on the carrier were unduly onerous. (Phase II of the application process requires applicants to show that their business processes, as well as their books and records, have the necessary linkages, controls and audit trails to support CSA requirements.)

“We were asked to provide information on all the loads we moved in a seven-day period, but we’re talking well over two million loads,” said one carrier representative. “How do you think we’re going to collect the details on that kind of information – and how do you think we’re going to send it to the CSA agent examining our application? We’ll have to send it by truckload – there’s no way we could e-mail it.”

CSA application requirements such as these and the reluctance of some importers to join CSA gave rise to the suggestion that CSA and FAST programs be separated. U.S. FAST membership, for example, requires only membership in C-TPAT (the U.S. Customs-Trade Partners Against Terrorism) or PIP (Canada’s Partners in Protection Program), both of which deal exclusively with security issues, not business issues as they relate to payment of Customs dues, as does CSA.

CSA mixes the two elements, by offering a streamlined accounting and payment process for all imported goods in tandem with a streamlined clearance process for eligible goods when an approved carrier and driver registered with the Commercial Driver Registration Program (CDRP) are involved. (The driver gets to the border, presents three barcodes and is automatically considered low risk and likely cleared.) Carriers were also given the latest update on ACI – the automated Commercial Information system slated to be up and running at land border crossing by 2006.

ACI will allow carriers, importers and brokers to submit their cargo information prior to their arrival at the border electronically. But carriers at the Toronto meeting pointed to current problems with electronic pre-arrival reporting to U.S. Customs in the hopes Canadian Customs will implement a better system. At least one of the carriers present reported receiving a number of fines in the previous weeks when customs brokers failed to submit cargo information within the appropriate time frame.

“I sent one broker my information 12 hours ahead of time and even called to ask him if he received it,” said the carrier. “But when my driver got to the border they said they didn’t have it and we got fined. I called back the broker and his excuse was,’ I said I got it, I didn’t say I submitted it.'”

Stories such as these prompted some freight forwarders in attendance to point out their services offer carriers the opportunity to check via the Web on whether their information has been sent in a timely fashion. But freight forwarders are not all created equal, at least according to some carriers.

“Why can’t ACI include a system where we actually get notice of whether our load information was received and whether the information checks out before we get to the border? At least that way we don’t end up parking in the plaza for hours,” said one attendee.The suggestion was duly noted by government officials in attendance.

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