Think Border Backups Have Been Solved? Think Again.
March 1, 2009
The border is not making the headlines it used to a few years ago when transborder trade was booming and long lineups were the norm. But this is one trade and transportation issue that is far from sol...
The border is not making the headlines it used to a few years ago when transborder trade was booming and long lineups were the norm. But this is one trade and transportation issue that is far from solved and one we dare not place on the backburner, despite how things appear on the surface.
The reality is there are some funny things going on at the border. For example, any carrier involved in hauling transborder freight, like Robert Murray of MSM Transportation whom I interviewed as part of our annual Award Winning Suppliers special for our sister publication Canadian Transpor tat ion & Logistics, will tell you the transborder business has been on the decline since about the fourth quarter of 2006. Yet the statistics don’t bear that out. The rising value of energy exports from Western Canada for much of 2007 and 2008 served to mask the consistently declining volumes of exports from the manufacturing sector in Central Canada. While to many politicians an export is an export, the reality for carriers, and those based in Central Canada in particular, is that the demise of manufacturing exports is a serious issue that requires addressing.
The other mirage at the border is that more than eight years after 9/11 and the myriad of security programs that were spawned, it is actually getting easier to cross it. Certainly the extended border delays that frazzled the nerves of transborder truckers for years have eased. But, as the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) pointed out when it recently appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, this should not be taken as any indication that all is now running smoothly. All it shows is a temporary reprieve caused by the drop in truck traffic crossing the border. The problems that have thickened the border in recent years – inconsistency between US and Canadian regulations, border guard staffing issues and inadequate infrastructure – have not been solved. In fact, CTA argues that despite the drastic drop-off in volumes, border processing times have barely changed at all.
When the North American economy eventually recovers, the problems that plagued carriers and their exporter customers will quickly rise to the surface and will do so at a time when we can least afford any obstacles to what may prove to be a fragile recovery for our beleaguered manufacturing sector.
Why has there been so little improvement during this time? The CTA argues that the Canadian approach of the past few years has been too diffuse, and at times this has impaired the country’s effectiveness in dealing with the US government. There are just too many federal departments with some stake or responsibility for some aspect of the border. The CTA is a professional lobby group, and an effective one by my experience, yet it admits when it comes to border issues it finds it a challenge just to figure out who’s who and how to get the different people working together. To that I would add the usual government inability to move as fast on key issues as business demands dictate that it should.
And things could have been worse if legislation considered by our government was adopted. The Canadian Border Services Agency was proposing to turn back trucks if the importer data had not yet been received before the truck arrived at the border. Fortunately, the government changed its mind after vociferous complaints from the CTA and others.
The CTA argues that perhaps the brightest period over the past eight years for advancing border issues arose out of the Smart Border Accord back in 2001when governments on both sides of the border decided to act together and at the same time. Perhaps what’s needed is a Smart Border Accord 2009, CTA argues. At the very least, we should also be looking in the mirror, making sure that as Canada rolls out measures such as an electronic truck manifest that we harmonize, to the extent possible, with the US, and that we don’t impose new requirements that will complicate, rather than simplify, the border crossing process.
I believe CTA’s recommendation to create a cabinet committee on the border and/or a specific ministerial or senior bureaucratic position with authority for all aspects of the border is a sound one and deserves consideration.
“We are seeing companies behaving completely differently from the values they used to espouse. They are acting like it’s the end of time and not a point in time.”
–Dan Einwechter President Challenger Motor Freight
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