Security will dominate ’03
During the past 12 months we have seen unprecedented emphasis on security at the border with our closest neighbor and trading partner – the United States. Many of the security plans are of great concern for Canadian truckers, importers, exporters and travellers – and so they should be. No major industrialized country on the planet is as vulnerable to trade with one country as Canada is with the United States.
As big a threat to the Canadian economy as some of the new measures might be, however, complacency amongst the Canadian public and therefore our political leaders, may be just as big a threat. Our country’s top economic priority should be protecting, fostering and nurturing our relationship with our largest customer, and making sure that we are not just competitive, but that we have a Canadian advantage. Instead, as a nation we remain to a great extent pre-occupied with issues of sovereignty that are rooted in timidity, petty partisan politics, legacies, leadership reviews, saving the Ottawa Senators, gun registries and de-criminalizing the use of pot. Important matters, perhaps. But really. Both the governing parties and the opposition – at both the federal and the provincial levels – are equally guilty.
Perhaps in Canada we are fatigued by the issue of terrorism and all the associated rhetoric. Perhaps we do not feel the same security threats as our American friends. So what? The reality is that the mood has not changed in Washington. The U.S. is in a bunker mentality. They are at war. Whether or not we like it, our standard of living; our economic activity is indelibly linked to the United States. Even if we don’t agree with everything the Americans, say, do and feel it is in our best interests – indeed it is imperative – that we secure the trust of the U.S. To keep our borders open, we must make sure their security needs are met, and that our 8,892 kilometres of undefended border and 130 border crossings do not pose a risk for either country. A diminished bond with our closest neighbor is the greatest economic threat facing Canada.
That doesn’t mean we need to adopt without question whatever programs they wish to implement. We need to protect our sovereign interests. We can help. In 2002, Canada and the United States worked on plans to expedite the flow of goods and people through the 30 Point Smart Border Action Plan. As a collaborative effort, this plan was specifically geared to our common border and included discussions on clearance away from the border, locations for joint customs facilities, infrastructure improvements and harmonized commercial processing.
The CCRA’s Customs Self-Assessment (CSA) program is a case in point. It is the pre-cursor of what has become the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program to expedite the movement of low-risk shipments in either direction across the border. FAST is now operational at six high-volume Canada/U.S. border crossings: Douglas/Blaine, Sarnia/Port Huron, Windsor/Detroit, Fort Erie/Buffalo, Queenston/Lewiston, and Lacolle/Champlain. While not all trade moves through these border crossings, they do represent the majority of the 14 million trucks that cross our borders each year and account for most of our $185 billion in imports and $175 billion in exports that move by truck.
But, if we don’t improve and develop our political relationships with the United States, new security initiatives could be taken that might neuter or deprecate initiatives such as FAST. Major plans for security in the United States are being developed through the new department known as Homeland Security.
These include new entry/exit controls, visa requirements and pre-notification of all land border shipments. We are following both issues very closely. The pre-notification issue bears close scrutiny.
Under section 343 of the Trade Act of 2002, the Secretary of the Treasury must promulgate regulations within one year to provide for the mandatory collection by U.S. Customs of electronic cargo information prior to importation into or exportation from the United States. The effects on carriers and shippers of having to provide pre-notification of all cargo could be significant and we will have to make sure that our interests are represented in a constructive manner to lessen any arcane measures that might be under consideration.
These programs could impact upon our ability to conduct business and not only jeopardize our trading position but see businesses leave Canada. Our government leaders must work to build and maintain close ties with the administration in the United States, and ensure that personal comments such as those from Canadian government officials in 2002, do not recur.
On a positive note, we were heartened by comments made during a recent meeting on the Smart Border Plan between Deputy Prime Minister John Manley and U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge that “among the measures to deepen co-operation within the existing plan,” was an agreement to “increase security and remove barriers to cross-border truck traffic by implementing a system to streamline driver participation in smart-card programs, including driver security screening for the cross-border transportation of dangerous goods.” While this is a welcome announcement this is only an agreement in principle on the architecture of a solution – let’s make sure we get it built.
– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
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