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We will adapt and overcome, we must

In my mind, Sept. 11 will be remembered as the day we saw things people should never have to see.That day produced images that will forever remain etched in our minds: The Boeing 767 slamming into the...

DAVID BRADLEY: Lobby leader
DAVID BRADLEY: Lobby leader

In my mind, Sept. 11 will be remembered as the day we saw things people should never have to see.

That day produced images that will forever remain etched in our minds: The Boeing 767 slamming into the World Trade Center; the fireball that followed; the men and women (some holding hands) jumping to their deaths; the towers imploding; the devastation that is now called “Ground Zero.”

Unspeakable horror brought to millions of homes and offices around the globe – live. Those terrible pictures that the networks played and replayed – again and again – have now been burned into our collective consciousness like an indelible stain. Like the Manhattan skyline – for this generation at least – things may never look the same.

Those images and events have changed us, individually and collectively, in ways that we may not yet comprehend. We no longer take our personal security for granted. There was a time, it seems so long ago, when we believed that by following some basic rules we would all be safe and all would be well. We would tell our children: Look both ways before crossing the street; don’t talk to strangers; don’t drink and drive; don’t walk alone at night. And we felt confident we would be greeting them at the door upon their return.

That has changed.

We could watch the terrible newscasts of the fighting and the bloodshed in the Middle East with academic detachment, wondering, sometimes out loud, ‘Why the madness?’ But always able to compartmentalize the underlying fears. Those conflicts were something foreign to us; foreign to our way of life. They were something happening, ‘over there.’ That has changed.

The suicide attacks not only wreaked carnage unequaled in American history, they drew a line from those foreign conflicts straight into our homes. Over there is here now.

The challenge

The challenge now for all of us is to accept that in our own little worlds things are different; that it isn’t, ‘business as usual,’ and to devise appropriate strategies to move forward. We can to take our cue from the people of New York, who have shown incredible resilience in the face of unspeakable horror.

Our governments and our political leaders have to help people, communities and the economy adapt to the new context.

The decision by the Federal Reserve Bank to cut the prime rate by half a point on the day the markets re-opened is an example of this. In America, as well as here in Canada, our political leaders have pledged a greater commitment to security as a way to restore public confidence. The challenge they face will be how best to balance the need for increased security with the need to keep the economy moving.

Border Policy

Border policy is an area where the clash of these two priorities is most evident.

The United States and Canada share the world’s longest undefended border. Our bilateral trading relationship is the largest two-way trade partnership on the planet. Annual U.S. transactions with Canada are 50 per cent more than U.S. transactions with Japan – the U.S.’s second largest trading partner – and 75 per cent more than its trade with the United Kingdom. Each year, the U.S. sells three times as much to Canada as it does to Japan. Ontario on its own purchases almost twice as much as Japan. Canada buys more U.S. goods than all the 15 European Union countries combined and all of Latin America. More than half of all U.S. automotive exports go to Canada. Canada supplies U.S. industry and consumers with $19 billion worth of energy per year. Trade between the U.S. and Canada has doubled since NAFTA.

In the days immediately following the terrorist attack, the border between Canada and the United States was virtually paralyzed as the U.S. Customs Service was placed on high alert. Both northbound and southbound commercial and traveller traffic was subjected to extensive scrutiny. This created gridlock at several of the busiest ports. At one point, trucks could take more than 20 hours to cross the border at Sarnia, Ont.

Similar wait-times were evident at several other border crossings. This situation created problems for several industries that rely on just-in-time shipments of parts to keep the assembly lines running as well as for truckers hauling perishable commodities and livestock. Although the situation improved dramatically in the days following the initial border tie-ups, it is not business as usual at the border. Fear of renewed terrorist attacks has led to a clampdown. Border facilitation has been replaced by more stringent enforcement.

One of the casualties of the attack of Sept. 11, could be any further attempt by Canadian authorities and the trading community to convince the U.S. Customs Service to move in lockstep with continued Canadian efforts to streamline commercial processes. For example, before Sept. 11, we were touting our Customs Self-Assessment (CSA) Program (which kicks in on Oct. 29) to be the way of the future. It allows pre-approved importers to use pre-approved carriers with pre-approved drivers to clear Customs with minimal border screening.

In theory at least, it holds the promise of reduced border delays and more efficient use of enforcement resources. It was hailed as a revolutionary strategy designed to modernize border practices and to deal with the exponential growth in trade between our two countries. A revolutionary strategy based on a revolutionary concept that in today’s considerably less secure world seems now terribly old: trust.

Does that mean then that we have to accept delays and gridlock at our border as part of the fallout from the attacks? Clearly the answer is no.

Our two economies are too integrated. Too many jobs, in too many communities on both sides of the border rely on trade moving efficiently. Over US$1 billion daily worth of trade crosses our border every year. For our industry, an efficient border is essential to maintaining our commitment of safe, reliable service. Close to 70 per cent of Can-Am trade moves by truck. A truck crosses the U.S.-Canada border once every 2.5 seconds. Trucks haul more than $500 million of goods a day into the U.S. – $120 million in automotive products alone.

Trucks are the favored mode of industrial transport because they can provide flexible, safe and timely service. Synchronous manufacturing, Just-in-Time inventory systems, quick response and time definite service – all have been built around the truck. In the days immediately following the attack, one analyst offered the opinion that it spelled the end of Just-in-Time.

If we accepted the status quo he would probably be right – a Just-in-Time system cannot operate unless there exists reliability of supply. Does that mean that innovative strategies such as CSA will have to be abandoned? Again, the answer is no. The underpinning of CSA is better intelligence, to target potential problem areas and to increase sanctions for non-compliance. Conceptually, that seems entirely consistent with a perimeter border approach. But the status quo is not an option.

Everything has changed and we must adapt.

A new plan

The events of September have created the need for a new paradigm for land border controls.

Immediate concerns and fears today have more to do with ensuring the security of the citizens of our nations than in intercepting contraband or tax collection. We must re-think and perhaps even abandon the traditional approaches, or run the risk of failure on every front – anti-terrorism and anti-smuggling alike.

One new approach has emerged. This approach would focus on targeting enforcement at the perimeter of each country in order to stop undesirables from entering our countries at first point of entry. Called the perimeter clearance approach, this strategy already has strong supporters both south of the border and here in Canada.

Perimeter clearance means the U.S. and Canada working closely together to strengthen protection of the external borders in order to free the movement of people and goods at our common border.

Over time, such a strategy would likely result in
a high level of harmonization of everything from immigration and security policies to food inspection practices. Over time, it would likely mean the integration of Canadian and U.S. border controls for travellers and goods. And over time, it could mean the elimination of border processing between Canada and the United States.

But this approach is not without its critics. There are those in Canada who believe that moving toward a perimeter border strategy would result in having our laws written in Washington. They argue that such a strategy would blur those lines we hold as a test of sovereignty. The debate over the perimeter border concept – which some have called Fortress North America – was just starting in the weeks prior to Sept. 11. The debate was taking on a typical Canadian tone: Sovereignty versus economics.

But those planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers served as painful notice that in the face of global terrorism the old concepts of state, sovereignty and security are not top of mind. They served as a reminder that we must move boldly with our American friends to ensure the integrity of our border.

We at the Canadian Trucking Alliance propose the following steps:

The government of Canada should immediately create a cabinet level post to co-ordinate border reforms policy.

An unambiguous undertaking from the government of Canada and the U.S. administration to begin bilateral discussions on improving perimeter security.

An immediate commitment from the government of Canada for additional financial resources to the lead Canadian agencies (Canada Customs, Citizenship and Immigration, and the RCMP) for investments in technology and staff for ports.

An undertaking from the administration to beginning bilateral discussions on common border strategies aimed at facilitating the flow of commerce. This should involve the sharing of Canadian border management expertise and systems such as Customs Self-Assessment.

In the terrorists’ minds the horrific actions were planned to destabilize the very core of American and other democracies. They have had the opposite effect.

Out of the rubble of the World Trade Center is rising a sense of solidarity and commonness of purpose that has been rarely seen in the history of man.

Surely together we can build on that to achieve a border that would stand as witness to the unique economic, cultural and political relationship that exists between Canada and the U.S., and not as a memorial to what might have been.

– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

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