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Border talks "encouraging": CTA

OTTAWA, Ont. -- Two days of meetings between U.S. and Canadian homeland security officials wrapped up yesterday wit...

OTTAWA, Ont. — Two days of meetings between U.S. and Canadian homeland security officials wrapped up yesterday with some encouraging announcements.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister, Anne McLellan, announced they are making progress towards implementation of the Smart Border Action Plan.

To the delight of trucking industry officials, they promised to consult stakeholders on the pre-screening of commercial trucks and will launch a pilot project on the full pre-clearance of goods at the Fort Erie-Buffalo, N.Y. border crossing.

They also said new dedicated FAST lanes will be opened up, including a southbound lane at the Pacific-Highway border crossing Oct. 20. There will also be new FAST-only lanes opened up in both directions at the Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge border crossing as of Nov. 1.

"The prospect of pre-screening and eventually full pre-clearance away from the busiest border crossings would be a very positive measure in helping to alleviate congestion on the approaches to the bridges," said Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO, David Bradley. "Obviously, the real work starts now, but for the longest time this issue seemed to be dead."

He added the FAST program is "the single best hope we have for a facilitated border and the addition of the dedicated FAST lanes at two of the busiest border crossings between Canada and the U.S. will be welcome."

According to Bradley, addressing border issues immediately is crucial to the trucking industry. He had a chance to meet with Ridge, McLellan and other key officials about the situation during a two-hour lunchtime meeting. Bradley says he raised a number of industry concerns about U.S. security measures that could interfere with the Smart Border Action Plan and the flow of goods across the border.

One such concern Bradley raised was the challenge in getting enough FAST-approved drivers registered to handle the volume of freight that will need to be moved by card-carrying members as of Nov. 15 when U.S. pre-notification rules kick in. Bradley said U.S. officials promised to review the situation immediately.

Bradley also urged Ridge to consider using FAST cards as a "platform" for Canadian compliance with a host of other security programs so a FAST card could be used for various purposes.

"I got a positive response, so I am hopeful we can cut down on the number of times a driver has to get basically the same security clearance," Bradley said.

Bradley went on to say border issues are "the single largest economic issue confronting Canada and it is going to take continued diligence and a heck of a lot of work and co-operation with and between governments to make sure that we don’t choke off trade in the name of security."

He did conclude, however, that he was encouraged by yesterday’s talks.

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