Ministers to U.S.: It’s time to tow the line

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OTTAWA, Ont. — In an announcement which came as no surprise to Canadian truckers, three senior Cabinet ministers are criticizing the U.S. for a lack of effort in reducing bottlenecks at the border.

However, the three were also optimistic that Washington may soon be ready to make trade a priority over perimeter security.

At a meeting of Canadian border city mayors, Herb Gray, the Deputy Prime Minister, Brian Tobin, the Minister of Industry, and the Revenue Minister, Martin Cauchon, called on Washington to ease the long delays in the movement of goods that have occurred since Sept. 11.

“The question of reforming the border — we don’t refer to it in terms of months, but it is in terms of weeks. We want to move quickly on that,” says Cauchon.

Canada wants both countries to put computerized transponders into trucks that would allow customs officers to know exactly what goods are being carried across the border. Another proposal is for customs agents to pre-clear empty trucks. Tobin also wants more money spent on improving highways, bridges and other infrastructure at busy border crossings, such as Windsor and Sarnia, where two-thirds of Canada’s trade flows.

Canada is far ahead of the U.S. in the use of technology and other pre-clearance measures to ease traffic flows, the ministers agree.

“There is nothing wrong in acknowledging that, with respect to the border, we have today a more efficient, more effective system in place. What we are asking the U.S. to do is to catch up with us, to work with us, to collaborate with us,” says Tobin.

Border congestion has had a more serious impact on Canada, which sells 87 per cent of its goods to the U.S. Even though Canada is the U.S.’ largest trading partner, it only sells 25 per cent of its goods north of the border.

A rare meeting of the Canada-U.S. border task force is being planned for Nov. 28 to prepare a package of common security measures aimed at safeguarding the border without hampering the flow of Canadian exports and travellers to the U.S.

Gray noted the flow of traffic on the Canadian side has improved significantly since Sept. 11, but there are still many problems on the U.S. side.

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