OTTAWA, Ont. – The governments of Canada and the US have announced plans for a partnership designed to accelerate the flow of goods between both countries, while also strengthening security and economic competitiveness.
The announcement, made Feb. 4 by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barack Obama, included two initiatives: the declaration of a shared vision for perimeter security and economic competitiveness, and the creation of a regulatory cooperation council (RCC). The initiatives will have four main priorities, including addressing threats early, trade facilitation, economic growth and job creation, integrated cross-border law enforcement and critical infrastructure and cyber-security.
The RCC, comprised of senior regulatory and trade government officials, has committed to meet within 90 days of the announcement to develop the Terms of Reference. The RCC will be looking at red tape reduction, transparency and ways to increase economic competitiveness by reducing bureaucracy.
“The review of these rules is an exceptional opportunity to break down regulatory barriers and prevent new ones from being introduced,” said Prime Minister Harper. “The main goal is to make it easier for Canadian and American firms to do business on both sides of our shared border, leading to more jobs and growth in both Canada and the US.”
The RCC is expected to bring forward an action plan within two years.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has applauded the joint announcement and is calling the RCC’s two-year plan a “very ambitious goal.”
“We have been calling upon the governments on both sides of the border to enter into a new shared, smart border agreement for some time,” said CTA’s president and CEO, David Bradley. “We are hopeful this process will lead to a better balance between security and trade imperatives, restores a risk management approach to the border and a meaningful return on investment in the trusted trader programs.
“Canada and the United States, alone or in partnership, cannot hope to compete with the emerging economies and/or other trading blocs, unless we have a predictable, reliable and efficient supply chain; the sheer enormity and overlap of the measures that have been imposed on cross-border trade over the past decade has not always been consistent with that imperative.”
Bradley noted that the trucking industry and trade community have been promised these things before, only to be disappointed with the results. “It will be essential for the governments to truly consult with the organizations whose members and businesses are living the border problems every day. Previous efforts to achieve improvements at the border, such as the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) were unsuccessful in part because they came at the problems from the 120,000-ft. level instead of where the rubber meets the road. The functioning of the border is a complex process; it can’t be fixed by asking people what the top two or three things are that they would like to see changed.”
Bradley also said that he does not think it is realistic to expect that the negotiations will lead to the dismantling measures introduced in the name of security that have been implemented over the past number of years.
“It may be a misnomer to characterize this to be the negotiation of a perimeter security agreement; I don’t detect any lessening of US concerns over security, or their view that the border in some ways represents the first line of defence. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will no doubt continue to be an elephant in the room.”
However, he said, “that does not mean that progress cannot be made in terms of better coordination and cooperation at the border, both between agencies on both sides of the border, but also between government departments on the same side of the border – the so-called single window concept – and in terms of mutual recognition of security programs for identifying trusted traders that are essentially the same in both countries.”
He also said that Canada needs to look at some of its own border security programs to ensure that they are not even more burdensome than similar programs in the US. For example, he said it makes little sense for businesses to have to belong to two programs – Customs Self Assessment (CSA) and Partners in Protection (PIP) – in order to gain access to the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lanes for goods moving northbound into Canada, whereas the US only requires participation in one program – Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) – in order to gain access to southbound FAST lanes.
In addition, he said it is important that Canada adopt the same transponder technology as the US in administering what are essentially similar Customs automation programs.
He also says in discussing harmonization of certain programs that Canada should be prepared to match US enforcement efforts of who can do what in terms of certain point-to-point freight movements in the other country and in terms of the ability for domestic loads to move in-transit in either country.
“We’d prefer a modernized approach to both issues, but so far that has been a hard sell in the United States. We need to be practical; we need to ensure a level competitive playing field.”
Finally, Bradley said that while there are those who will decry the negotiations as a threat to Canadian sovereignty, he believes that “most Canadians understand the importance of the US marketplace for Canadian economic prosperity and jobs.”
“Joint decision-making, better coordination and cooperation in terms of managing our shared border, and synchronized infrastructure investment and construction, leading to a stronger economy, enhances our sovereignty, it doesn’t denigrate it. Despite what some may say, most Canadians get it.”
The American Trucking Associations has also voiced its support of the agreement, calling it “a positive first step to increasing the competitiveness of businesses on both sides of the border.”
At the same time that President Obama and Prime Minister Harper were meeting, ATA members and staff met with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Alan Bersin to discuss ways to improve cross-border trucking operations.
“We held a very open and positive discussion with Commissioner Bersin and other CBP officials to find ways to improve and expedite the movement of freight across the border,” said Graves. “We look forward to working with CBP and other government agencies to define what is needed to have a more secure and efficient process for cross-border trucking operations.”
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