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Get on the FAST track Kaplan advises shippers and carriers

TORONTO, Ont. -- National Revenue Minister Elinor Kaplan wants companies doing a lot of cross-border business to ge...

TORONTO, Ont. — National Revenue Minister Elinor Kaplan wants companies doing a lot of cross-border business to get on the FAST track.

Kaplan was speaking to members of Supply Chain & Logistics Canada in Toronto yesterday and her message about the government program identifying low-risk shipments for express border clearance was clear: "If your company does a lot of cross-border shipping, and is not yet a FAST participant, I highly recommend that you apply. When it comes to your company’s bottom line, FAST is definitely on your side."

It’s a message that so far doesn’t appear well received by the shipping community. While 295 carriers and 23,256 drivers have so far applied to be part of FAST, only 18 importers have done so. The low importer response undermines the program because for a shipment to qualify for the express service at the border provided by FAST, the shipper, the carrier and the driver must all be FAST approved.

Asked to account for the low shipper response to date, Kaplan said, "probably because the program is relatively new." She said the program initially appealed mainly to larger companies.

FAST is already in place at six of the largest border crossings, and will expand to six more high-volume commercial crossings by December. Kaplan said that FAST and NEXUS (a similar program for low-risk travellers), in combination with advanced warnings from the U.S. proved to be extremely valuable in minimizing impacts at the border during the last two orange alerts for terrorism activity.
"While there were some delays, we did not have the seizing of the border we had after 9/11," she said.

Kaplan also said government officials on both sides of the border are working to smooth out the differences between the FAST programs employed by Canada and the U.S.
"They are not exactly the same. It takes a while to get such programs closer together," she said.

Asked whether the move of U.S. Customs into the newly created Department of Homeland Security was creating "cultural" issues which were slowing down progress on border legislation, Kaplan acknowledged that there are challenges.

"Frankly, (the inclusion of U.S. Customs under Homeland Security) is probably more difficult than they imagined. It’s not going to be smooth sailing for them. On the ground it’s working, however. Canada Customs and U.S. Customs have always had a good working relationship," Kaplan said. "There will be some bumps. The road to success is always under construction."

Kaplan also said Canada Customs is continuing to invest in technology. By the end of summer, VACIS machines will be in place at 11 locations across Canada. VACIS machines use gamma rays to detect contraband, weapons and other potentially dangerous goods without physically opening containers and exposing employees to their contents.

Customs is also relying on laser range finders to detect false walls in containers and multi-gas monitors for detecting poisonous and explosive gases on marine vessels.

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