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We have the technology

In recent years, the Customs and border agencies in both the US and Canada have moved to introduce a more automated approach to commercial border clearance through their respective electronic manifest programs.


In recent years, the Customs and border agencies in both the US and Canada have moved to introduce a more automated approach to commercial border clearance through their respective electronic manifest programs.

E-manifests provide the Customs agencies with advance driver, conveyance and cargo information allowing truck processing to begin before the truck arrives at the Customs booth. Receiving manifest information early allows border officers to begin risk assessment prior to the truck’s arrival at the port of entry which in turn (and in theory) enables them to dedicate more time to inspecting high-risk cargo without delaying the border crossings of legitimate carriers. Under the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) program, e-manifest capabilities are now available at all 99 US land border ports of entry.  

CBP estimates that on average, e-manifests are processed 21% faster than paper manifests, which it is estimated can shave up to a minute-and-a-half off processing times per truck. With the number of trucks crossing at some of the busier ports, that is not an insignificant cumulative impact. The Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) Automated Customs Initiative (ACI) e-manifest program will be mandatory in 2012. Although the transition to e-manifest has not always been easy, CTA is supportive of both these initiatives.

In both countries’ programs, there are various ways for a carrier to transmit e-manifest data. Radio frequency identification (RFID) offers perhaps the most convenient and efficient way. Under ACE, carriers have the option of equipping their trucks with a designated transponder technology that transmits RFID signals directly to CBP. CBSA is also considering transponders for ACI, but there are obstacles (ie., Canadian procurement policy and procedures) that make adopting the US transponder as the sole technology problematic.

Moreover, carrier experience with the US transponder has been mixed. Still, CTA strongly believes RFID is the way to go.

However, that does not necessarily mean we need to be beholden to transponders. Other technological solutions exist which could avoid some of the problems associated with transponders and for a lower level of investment. The use of these technologies and their potential application to all US- and Canada-bound trucks should be examined.

In particular, CTA proposes that one promising approach might be to require all commercial truck drivers to carry an RFID-enabled commercial identification card. In fact, a lot of the work has already been done. By now everyone has heard of the voluntary, bi-national Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card. The FAST program is the key risk assessment program introduced in the post-9/11 period. It is designed to pre-screen and identify low-risk traders (importers, carriers, drivers, freight) and to provide expedited border crossing.

Commercial drivers deemed to be low-risk are issued a FAST card, which is RFID-enabled. Most truck drivers crossing the border today have FAST cards.  Building on the FAST platform (the administrative infrastructure such as enrollment centres, application process, etc., already exists at multiple locations in both Canada and the US) a card system could be created for drivers which is either tiered or has various designations indicating the various levels of security clearance a driver has gone through, such as: No security background check; domestic security check (ie., for port, airport access); and/or current FAST-level screening.

Not only could such a program expedite border crossings, it could also eliminate the need for transponders altogether. It also has the potential to replace the CBSA’s Commercial Driver Registration Program (CDRP) card, which despite the fact it is not linked to any security requirements still allows holders to use FAST lanes.  (Under CTA’s proposed program FAST lane access would be reserved for those who qualify for the highest level of security clearance).

Under a card system, border agencies could create opportunities to introduce additional benefits for drivers such as “front of the line” privileges for top-tier drivers when referred to secondary or the ability to use the border crossing card for personal travel (similar to the NEXUS card), perhaps saving truck drivers from having to carry a passport when doing some cross-border shopping or going to the US on vacation.  

In addition, the creation of a border-crossing card could create a potential opportunity for the more efficient collection of existing border crossing fees. We’re not advocating new or additional fees but if we could streamline the collection and administration of existing fees, that would be a good thing.

CTA strongly supports the implementation of RFID-compatible technology by both CBP and CBSA to expedite cross-border commercial traffic, and believes that our proposal for a mandatory border crossing card could not only satisfy this requirement, but could be leveraged to serve other needs as well.

This is not really thinking outside the box. It’s more about identifying practical solutions. Recently, we put the idea to both CBSA and CBP. Very preliminary indications are encouraging. We’ll keep you posted.


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