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Industry Issues: Smart Border Vision Blurred

The picture of trucks backed up for miles, waiting to cross into the United States in mid-September 2001, is seared into the memory of everyone connected with the trucking industry. Despite the frustr...


David Bradley

David Bradley


The picture of trucks backed up for miles, waiting to cross into the United States in mid-September 2001, is seared into the memory of everyone connected with the trucking industry. Despite the frustration and confusion that reigned during those dark days, people understood that we were dealing with an unprecedented situation, and few blamed the US government for clamping down the way it did.

Now, more than five years on, the line-ups are shorter and sometimes non-existent, but the frustration and confusion remains.

In some respects the situation immediately post 9-11 was far easier to deal with.

The US had been attacked, and it did what every citizen expects its government to do – subordinate everything to national security.

Everyone knew that the border would open eventually and that the backlogs would be cleared. But I’m not sure anyone was prepared for what followed.

The Canada/US smart border declaration of December 2001 was put together with a great sense of urgency and purpose by the two governments.

Certainly for those in the trucking industry it provided the hope that the cross-border business would continue to thrive despite the obvious imperative to enhance security at the land border.

“Achieving a balance between security and trade facilitation,” was repeated at every conference, at every meeting, in every speech and in every interview with a politician or government official.

I’m sure I said it myself. It made sense then, and it still does now, but are we really on the road to achieving this balance?

From where I sit, listening daily to the men and women who work in the trucking industry, I would have to respond “No.”

Despite the lofty intentions of the two governments, the border is becoming bogged down with a seemingly endless series of new programs, requirements and costs on both sides of the border. Maybe I just have to accept the notion that we are in a transition phase from the old way of doing things to a modern new reality, where data moves electronically, trucks are processed efficiently, and our officials are armed with the tools they need to surgically target those who would do us harm.

Some people have told me that their drivers think electronic manifests are great, and that the extra effort that goes into sending information in advance to the border has actually sped things up.

But there is a flip side, and it is the one I hear most often. I see a fantastic idea like the Free and Secure Trade program compromised because a driver has no means of recourse when a card is confiscated or an application denied.

I see another essential step forward, the introduction of the electronic truck manifest, going through predictable growing pains.

I see outright confusion over plans to introduce a passport requirement – or some alternative – at the land border.

If only I had a nickel for every time I was asked by a carrier if his drivers should apply for a passport now!

Carriers have had to restructure their operations to respond to the US Trade Act.

Those hauling agricultural products will be familiar with the requirements of the Bioterrorism Act.

If a carrier has non-Canadian drivers in its employ, it must be up to speed on US VISIT.

If they haul for the auto industry, they need to be validated under C-TPAT and its Canadian equivalent, Partners in Protection.

If they are picking up or delivering at a US port, their drivers will soon need a Transportation Worker Identity Credential. Haul haz-mat across the border?

Get your drivers FAST-certified. And by the way, have you checked the pallets the shipper loaded to ensure they are properly marked under wood packaging materials requirements adopted by both countries?

By now you probably get my drift. But I’m nowhere close to finished.

Carriers have invested heavily in redesigning business processes, in training, and in dollars to respond to each of the measures described above.

But every day, it seems, brings a new challenge.

Agricultural inspection fees will more than double the cost of an annual border crossing transponder – never mind that the agency responsible freely acknowledges that between 80 and 95% of the trucks crossing the border don’t even move the commodities of interest.

The single crossing charge for as truck to enter the US will go up by 10% on Apr. 1.

Canadian officials can’t seem to come to grips with the fact that the Customs tariff is out of line with the practices of our NAFTA partners and poses a serious threat to the efficient use of trucking equipment in cross-border operations. AMPS penalties charged by CBSA run into the millions each year.

CBSA also dips into carriers’ pockets for offload fees, even though the enforcement action may have been precipitated by concerns about the client for which it hauls.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. If I sound frustrated, if this comes across as a rant, then so be it. It’s what CTA and the provincial trucking associations hear every day from carriers. I’m just the messenger.

Despite everything, I’m nothing if not an eternal optimist. I believe US and Canadian lawmakers are not deliberately trying to disrupt the trucking industry. I don’t think public officials on both sides of the border have any interest in making life difficult for carriers and drivers. And I know most of all that carriers are an adaptable lot, and they will do whatever it takes – however frustrated and confused they may feel at times – to continue to do the job of moving the freight across the border that is so essential to Canada’s economy and way of life.

I just hope that lawmakers and officials are beginning to understand that with each and every new measure, however well intentioned, the smart border vision becomes increasingly blurred.

– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.


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