Governments urged to move on pre-clearance pilot

by Ingrid Phaneuf

OTTAWA, Ont. – Trucking groups both north and south of the border are hoping a pre-clearance pilot project for the Peace Bridge, announced this fall, will eventually result in the pre-clearance of all U.S. bound loads out of Canada.

But they’re also worried new procedures could result in making matters worse, if they aren’t consulted.

The pilot project at the third busiest U.S./Canada border crossing, jointly announced in October by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan could see the relocation of all U.S. border functions for both commercial and passenger traffic from Buffalo, N.Y. to Fort Erie, Ont.

But as of early January, the project had yet to kick off.

And trucking industry officials on both sides of the border are getting antsy.

In a recent joint statement and appearance before the Undersecretary of Border and Transportation Security at the Department of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson, and Canada’s National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, Rob Wright, representatives from the Canadian Trucking Alliance and from the American Trucking Associations said they were eager to participate.

Both organizations are wary of a second element of the pilot – supposedly favoured by some U.S. customs officials – that would limit U.S. functions in Canada to pre-screening only, for example, VACIS (x-ray) scans, radiation monitoring and physical examination of cargo.

“It is far too early in the game to know exactly how the pilot will unfold, and whether the results may have relevance for other border crossings,” commented Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley. “But we owe it to our members, to the shippers whose goods we carry, and to the people of both countries to constantly strive for improvements, and I’m hopeful this pilot will help us to learn how to do things better.”

ATA and CTA are insisting that they both be full participants in the pilot project steering committee which will be tasked with reviewing and providing input at each stage of the project.

They share the view that both organizations must be recognized as equal partners by government agencies in the development, implementation, and assessment of any northern border pre-clearance security pilot program.

In their joint statement, ATA and CTA assert their organizations:

* Are fully cognizant of the potential threat posed by terrorist organizations to common assets of national, economic, and social importance and recognize the necessity of taking steps to protect the infrastructure that connects the countries and economies, such as the Peace Bridge in Buffalo.

* Recognize the need for improving communication and co-ordination on security initiatives. Both ATA and CTA have participated in co-operation with government agencies in the development of the Free and Secure Trade Program (FAST), joint border infrastructure development programs, and the development of electronic clearance systems for processing cargo, vehicles and drivers crossing the border.

* Are eager to continue to examine alternative clearance options that could facilitate the flow of commercial traffic by reducing both significant traffic disruptions and processing delays given the sheer traffic volumes in order to enhance highway safety, reduce emissions in border areas, increase security, and facilitate cross-border trade.

* Support the Smart Border Accord and its action plan, including the concept of “reverse inspections,” and welcome the new U.S.-Canada framework.

ATA and CTA offer the following specifics on the Peace Bridge pilot:

* They support the creation of a pilot project Steering Committee, tasked with reviewing and providing input to each stage of the pilot, to include representatives from ATA, CTA, Peace Bridge personnel, and U.S. and Canadian customs representatives.

* They do not support an effort to “prescreen” U.S.-bound commercial vehicles on the Canadian side if it leads to a “thickening” of the border rather than a more efficient and effective security control process.

* They recommend the use of “rigorous scientific techniques” to monitor the progress of the pilot. Increasing security measures must not result in sacrificing trade facilitation, they stress.

* The program designed must protect the benefits enjoyed by FAST/C-TPAT carriers and drivers. In addition, there should be special consideration given to truckload, less-than-truckload and small package carriers that have made the effort to become C-TPAT certified and that have FAST drivers but are carrying mixed loads of C-TPAT and non C-TPAT freight.

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