Viewpoint: Is the U.S. losing patience with Canada’s security turtle walk?

by Lou Smyrlis

In the darkest days after 9/11, when there was good reason to fear the American government would resort to draconian border legislation in the attempt to prevent another terrorist attack, those best versed in the realities of the world’s largest trading relationship knew better.

They understood that although the economic umbilical cord between Canada and the U.S. may not be something most U.S. citizens, and likely many of their government representatives, are aware of, the cold reality is that the economies of many U.S. states depend on Canadian input for their survival.

They knew the initial push to shut down the border would quickly give way to a more reasonable approach soon as American assembly lines started shutting down and American businesses started to suffer. And that is exactly what happened. When Canada-U.S. trade shrunk to $209 billion in 2002 from its record $230-billion pace in 2000, facilitating trade between the two countries became just as important a priority as border security and anti-terrorism.

But just as four years ago the numbers worked in favour of all of us with an interest in efficient access to the border, the numbers are working against us now. Several factors are converging to make this so, chief of which is the significant resurgence of cross-border trade since 2002. Despite the introduction of several costly border security programs, and continuing challenges with border delays, Canada-U.S. trade reached $288 billion in 2005. The political significance of this should not be underestimated. As Eric Couture, assistant attache Customs and Border Protection, at the United States Embassy points out, the resurgence provides the U.S. government considerably more room to focus on border security. And I can’t imagine the U.S. government being satisfied when it looks at the progress its border security programs have made with Canadian companies.

For example, more than 45,000 Canadian companies are registered to trade with the U.S., yet fewer than 3% are part of the C-TPAT program, essentially the backbone for all U.S. government border security programs. How does the U.S. government view such dismal response from its closest trading partner? Once again the words of Couture are worth noting: “If you are not members of C-TPAT that means to us you don’t care about our security and combating terrorism. And if you don’t, why should we care about facilitating the movement of your goods across our border,” Couture recently told a gathering of carriers and shippers organized by the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association and our sister publication Canadian Transportation & Logistics. I’ve heard Couture speak many times over the past three years. He does tend towards more colourful speech than most bureaucrats I know, but never have I heard him chastize Canadian efforts that strongly. Makes me think the U.S. is quickly losing patience with Canadian exporters’ turtle walk towards adoption of border security programs.

I understand, of course, that Canadian carriers have been among the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of the border security programs. But unless they place greater pressure on their customers to also get involved they risk being painted with the same brush.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at

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