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News Focus: One year after the terror

Toni Marwitz, U.S. Consul GeneralI don't believe there has ever been a time in our history that more high level attention has been focused on cross-border trade. The United States and Canada have chan...

Toni Marwitz, U.S. Consul General

I don’t believe there has ever been a time in our history that more high level attention has been focused on cross-border trade. The United States and Canada have changed dramatically since September 11. We know that we must make our common borders more secure without damaging trade. To achieve higher security without damaging cross-border trade, we must cooperate closely with each other to make the necessary compromises. A difficult proposition, yet we are committed to bring it off.

The United States and Canada signed the Smart Border Agreement in December 2001. Although this agreement was signed in the wake of the terrorist insanity of September 11th, the principles and paradigms were years in development and point the way to a better, more secure, problem-free trading system. Since its signing last December, genuine progress has been made on each of the thirty points of the Smart Border Accord.

For the near future, our two governments are currently implementing a “smart card” containing biometric identifiers such as palm prints or iris scans to facilitate inspections at the border. The NEXUS system has great potential to eliminate long lines at border crossings. It is in use at the Bluewater Bridge and was put in place on the B.C.-Washington border in June. Later this year NEXUS will be installed at the Ambassador Bridge, and plans are for it to be used at all major border crossings. Additionally, Canada and the United States will establish an intelligent transportation system. This system will install radio frequency tracking devices for trucks and electronic seals for containers, to be monitored by satellite providing a more secure and risk-free environment for trade goods.

I do not wish to imply that everything is going smoothly. There are areas where there has been little or no progress. We are unable to share Customs data for security purposes because we cannot guarantee that this data would not be used for tax purposes in the U.S. We have not yet reached an agreement to share data on all passenger lists of all airlines coming into North America. We still have no agreement on crucial infrastructure development and improvement.

As you can see by both our successes and failures, we have a lot to do. We need a trading system that is also faster and more efficient. We need short-term fixes, not 10-year studies, to address the security of our shared border. We have instituted only some elements of a Harmonized Commercial Processing system, a system which could provide faster clearances for overland trade goods through carrier and driver certification. We are still negotiating partnerships with industries on security. We hope to establish joint clearance facilities as well as future international trade zones to clear railroad and truck cargoes. We are now searching for a pilot location for this latter concept, and Toronto and Chicago appear to be excellent prospects.

Remo Mancini, Executive Vice President, Canadian Transit Company / Ambassador Bridge

The situation at the international border crossings between the United States and Canada remains difficult to say the least. Long truck lines have reappeared. At the Windsor/Detroit crossings in particular, it now takes U.S. Customs 20 to 30 seconds longer to process a truck. At the Ambassador Bridge, where 6,000 trucks per day enter the United States, these new inspection procedures add more than 35 hours of processing time in each 24-hour time period.

These new delays are taking place in spite of the fact that we continue to have less car and truck traffic as compared to 1999.

The longer processing times and greater scrutiny being employed by the Customs Services on both sides of the border have probably made our crossings more safe but the inconvenience for travelers and loss of efficiency for business is measurable.

In the year 2000, 8.7 million cars and nearly 3.5 million trucks traversed the Ambassador Bridge. At the same time, nearly 8.4 million cars traversed the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel. These are very large numbers. However, it should be noted that both the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge have significant unused capacity. This unused capacity has grown substantially since September 11, 2001. Given the current circumstances, it may be several years before traffic begins to grow again in the Windsor/Detroit corridor. Prior to September 11 the Ambassador Bridge was at 58% capacity.

Capacity in the Windsor/Detroit corridor is being constrained not by the existing Tunnel and Bridge, but by outdated border management procedures and public infrastructure leading to and from our border crossings. On the American side of the Ambassador Bridge, the public infrastructure problem is going to be resolved by the already approved and environmentally cleared Ambassador Bridge Gateway project. This project foresees the expenditure of more than U.S. $120 million, of which some has already been spent.

I have over the past number of years advocated a strategy for creating a model border for the 21st century using the Ambassador Bridge crossing as an example. Obviously, September 11 has caused new requirements but the job can still be done. Let me outline what we need in order to create a 21st century border:

A Canada/U.S. agreement to formalize and institutionalize by way of a working model the right number of Customs and Immigration officers at specific Canada/U.S. border crossings.

Immediate expansion of the NEXUS program to all major border crossings, especially the Windsor/Detroit Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge.

A comprehensive Canada/U.S. NEXUS-like program for commercial vehicles to support our retail, agricultural and auto industries who have employed the “Just-in-Time” management system.

Implement immediately reverse Customs inspection, thereby adding a new level of safety and security. The Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel can be used as pilot projects.

Work to implement a stronger North American border perimeter while at the same time respecting Canadian sovereignty.

The federal governments of Canada and the U.S. in cooperation with other levels of government need to guarantee a public roadway system leading to and from border crossings, which provide seamless gateway- to- gateway connections.

I know that there are probably other things that can and must be done. But if we were to implement the above six points along the Canada/U.S. border, we would be well on our way to constructing a model border for the 21 st century.

James Phillips, President and CEO, Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance

Historically the northern border has been under funded. The U.S./Canada border embodies 40% of total U.S. ports of entry, yet only 14% of U.S. Customs primary inspectors, performing 33% of the U.S. Customs national workload.

U.S.-Canada two-way trade doubled from 1989 to 1998 and is expected to double again by 2008. A majority of this trade (70%+) is carried by truck utilizing land border crossing gateways. Yet there are under 900 inspectors working the border, the same number as during the 1980s. Since the 1980s commercial transactions have increased 600% while inspector staff has increased 0%. Routinely half of the existing processing lanes (in total), on the U.S./Canada border remain closed due solely to understaffing of U.S. Customs and INS primary inspectors. This is due to spending priority choices by the U.S. Congress and has begun to change post September. 11.

Resource increases cannot occur without passage of appropriation authority. We are encouraged by the USA-Patriot and Border Security Bill appropriations. It is critical that those appropriations specify additional inspector personnel not just generic Customs personnel. Time is of the essence as 9 months or more will elapse before appropriated new inspector personnel can be recruited, trained and actually take their place on border primary line operations. Resources for technology and equipment are also especially important.

In spite of tremendous breakthroughs the cur
rent border crossing processes for “legal” goods and people continue to impede rather than facilitate crossings. What is needed is to integrate, make joint and in some cases combine the activities of agencies involved while acknowledging and protecting sovereignty. This would result in shifting control to the first point of arrival into either country thus removing the need for the current checks at the Canada/U.S. border.

The recent proclamation of the Canadian Airport Pre-Clearance Legislation is the model for implementing Canadian legislation now to allow Accord Processing Zones at the land border crossings (essentially the very small geographical areas within the perimeter of each border crossing processing area). These zones will allow simultaneous enforcement of each country’s laws by representatives of both countries’ agencies regardless if located on the Canadian or U.S. side.

Implementation is needed of a joint single U. S./Canada “low risk” traveler technology system for registered Canadian and U.S. citizens to enter either country via dedicated primary lanes.Commercial drivers should be added to NEXUS, the security system which enforces identification of low risk individuals as 20% of trucks crossing the border are empties.

Physical reality and constraints at the border crossings must be dealt with.Customs Self Assessment and NCAP, Line Release, Pre Arrival Processing and handling of “empties” are currently impeded by the physical inability to reach the primary lane to be processed. The current reality is that the least prepared cargo carrier in each line dictates the waiting and delay time of all the pre-cleared carriers in line behind it. A 45-minute waiting time to get to the primary booth to be processed in seconds is ridiculous. Trucks need to be “streamed” so that all those prepared and/or pre-cleared are processed in tandem without waiting needlessly. This involves traffic management on the approach roads and Commercial Vehicle Processing Centers to divert unprepared trucks before they clog the primary processing lanes.

Regal Decision Systems modeled the actual traffic arrival, flow and patterns at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York. It found that the relocation of just the 4 U.S. Customs Primary Inspection Truck Booths to the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge and the introduction of the joint low-risk traveler NEXUS system would result in the following benefits:75% of trucks waiting in queue are eliminated; average truck transit time reduced from 44 minutes to 18 minutes; savings of 105,000 gallons of diesel fuel; reduction of 93,000 hours of truck delay time; reduction of environmental discharge of HC, CO, NOX annually by over 50%.

Paul D. Frazer, Principal, Murphy, Frazer and Selfridge, Former Canadian Consulate General in New York

There is a perception in Canada that negative consequences – economic and otherwise – resulting from impediments to border flows would accrue primarily to Canada. A National Post editorial from June 11 articulates this sentiment, noting that “‘if the flow of Canadian exports were impeded, the United States would be inconvenienced, but Canada would be devastated.”

This evaluation ignores the huge two-way trade and another part of the equation: the fact that roughly 25% of American exports go to Canada and roughly 15% go to Mexico. This “inconvenience” to the United States would amount to over U.S. $265 billion per year in exports.

Thus, economic integration of the NAFTA countries, but of Canada and the United States in particular, make the protection of a secure, open and efficient border a national priority for all parties involved.

If it is essential that Ottawa do everything possible to enable the United States to have confidence in the security of its northern border, then this confidence is directly linked to how well Canada tells its story in a timely fashion in the United States. To do this requires a comprehensive, energetic, well resourced long-term communications/messaging/advocacy effort in the United States. It is fundamental to any effort to promote and protect Canadian interests there.

To date, Canadian efforts in this regard have had limited impact on American attitudes and opinions regarding Canada. For example, an Ipsos-Reid poll released on May 7, 2002 reported that while 18% of Americans consider Canada to be their closest friend and ally, 56% of respondents named the United Kingdom. Although 14% of Americans acknowledge Canada as their largest trading partner; 27% named Japan and 25% named China. These countries are in fact the third and fourth largest trading partners of the United States.

For most Canadians these figures are frustrating but not surprising. But rather than be discouraged, we should seize the opportunity to improve upon these figures and in so doing enhance Canadian interests in the United States.

Nine months ago terrorism’s punch sideswiped the Canada-US relationship in a manner no one predicted. To me, it once again highlighted Canada’s continuing failure to protect its interests adequately in the United States, and around the world.

Alan Gottlieb, former Ambassador to the United States once spoke about the “world’s longest undefended clich.” So too the world’s largest trading relationship runs the risk of becoming a clich if it is not protected and used as a vehicle to enhance the bilateral relationship.

Canada must do something to project itself as a modern, confident, and successful country that is globally engaged while at the same time identifying itself as a neighbor, ally and indispensable partner of the United States.

Governments federally and provincially have a responsibility to identify priority interests and to make a case for those interests in a comprehensive set of actions and activities in the United States.

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