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the challenge ahead

The events of September 11 - events whose horrific images will likely be burned into our memory forever - pose a challenge to us all.For our political leaders the immediate challenge is to bury their ...

The events of September 11 – events whose horrific images will likely be burned into our memory forever – pose a challenge to us all.

For our political leaders the immediate challenge is to bury their differences and work with the US in an effective campaign to thwart further terrorist attacks. Over the long term their challenge will be to gain a better understanding about why people resort to such drastic and destructive actions and develop international policies that address those reasons.

For our industry, and the government ministries that deal with it, the challenges are also great. In the short term, the challenge is for shippers, carriers and government officials to cooperate on clearing the backlog of freight that resulted from the closures and delays at several border points and airports. The right steps are being taken in this regard. Both the US and Canadian governments indicated fairly quickly that they will exercise flexibility in how they view drivers whose hours of service records were adversely affected by the border delays. Shippers are contributing to the solution by prioritizing their shipments .

The much bigger challenge, however, will be in dealing effectively with what will likely be a move towards much tighter border security. Few other countries are as dependent upon trade than Canada. And, similar to many Canadian industries, trucking relies heavily on transborder trade for its growth. Over one-third of Canada’s GDP is dependent upon trade with the US and 70 percent of that trade moves by truck. Yet there’s little doubt that following the terrorist attacks the access points to our most important trading partner are, understandably, about to become much tighter and likely take longer to get through.

Since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, the US has shifted its focus away from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. The governments of both Canada and the US must now take it upon themselves to renew their efforts on our border.

Increased security measures at US entry points must be accompanied by investments in technologies that make border crossing, and all the paperwork that goes with it, a more efficient and streamlined process. In recent years, Canadian investments have made it easier for US imports to enter Canada, but the lack of reciprocal action and investment in automated systems on the US side continue to make it difficult for Canadian exports to reach markets in the US. Tighter security in the absence of technological investment will only make this worse.

And for the Canadian government its efforts can neither start nor stop at the border. It must commit itself to a strategy that addresses trade corridors in their entirety. That means also investing in the highway infrastructure leading to the border. The recommendations made by the Canadian Trucking Alliance in this regard appear even more worthwhile under the present circumstances. Namely:

Designating one government minister to have the lead on border issues as opposed to the current fragmented multi-departmental approach.

Creating a joint Canada-US, government-industry advisory board on border issues.

And allocating federal fuel taxes to a strategic infrastructure fund that would be used to pay for highway and border projects and to leverage provincial, municipal and private partnerships.

Ill-prepared policy on tighter border security will likely lead to recurring problems with the JIT delivery schedules the North American economy has been built on and chip away at our efficiency gains.

The aim of any terrorist action is to unravel the target nation’s social and economic fabric. Let’s rise to the challenge and adopt the border policies necessary to deny the terrorists their objective.

Lou Smyrlis

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