TORONTO — The two leading Canadian and American business groups are demanding that their respective governments reduce overlapping rules at the border, scrap redundant fees, and explore capacity-boosting options like short seas shipping.
In a newly released report, the U.S. and Canadian Chambers of Commerce are specifically critical of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) fee and call on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to immediately waive the charge for participants in C-TPAT and FAST programs.
The fees, implemented last year, are supposed to fund additional agricultural quarantine inspections at the border. But the $5.25 per crossing (or $105 USD annual) fee applies to all trucks and all types of shipments.
The commerce groups say truckers and shippers already pre-approved under FAST and C-TPAT security clearances should not have to fork over the levy. “Nor is there an exemption for the conveyance that pose little or no threat of importing plant pests or animal diseases, such as shipments of automotive parts,” the state.
Furthermore, their report calls on the government to develop a pre-clearance pilot program in the next six months to expedite processing of qualified low-risk food importers. “Foods produced by companies with a demonstrated history of compliance and safety would receive expedited treatment at the border, reducing both costs and delays,” states the report.
The report — titled “Finding the Balance: Reducing Border Costs While Strengthening Security” — points out that most major processors — many of which are owned by a U.S. parent who export to the United States — have facilities within one to two hours of U.S. ports of entry. “As part of any reputable company’s supply chain, food shipments are securely sealed at processing facilities to ensure integrity. Those seals are often broken at ports for inspections, and then replaced with new government seals.”
Border crossing costs are nearing the “breaking point” for many carriers and their customers, and are becoming “an unmanageable burden on Canadian and U.S. job producers,” says the report, adding that congestion and administrate-related delays are pushing many manufacturers offshore.
“While we strongly support the efforts of our governments to protect our two nations against those who threaten our freedoms, we also believe that we can keep our borders closed to terrorism yet open to trade,” the chambers of commerce say in a joint statement. “A ‘thick’ border, one associated with increasing border-crossing fees, inspections, and wait times, is an expensive border. A sense of frustration exists within the Canadian and U.S. business communities that many practical measures that could reduce border-related costs have yet to be taken.”
Other measures that will reduce the costs and risks associated with the border are also needed, says both chambers.
These include: Providing 24/7 border access, including all secondary inspections by fully trained officers at major crossings; further progress on the development of a border contingency plan in the event of another terrorist attack; rapid implementation of enhanced drivers’ licences; rescinding the requirement for individual food health stickers; full rollout of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology at all major crossings; and the establishment of a Short Sea Shipping pilot project.
On the latter point, the pilot would support services that would transport truck trailers across the Great Lakes without the cabs and drivers. Instead, the trailers would be delivered to the ferry by one driver and picked up at the final destination across the border by another trucker.
The report explains how a truck must travel more than five and a half hours (466 km) from London, Ont. to Cleveland, Ohio in order to navigate around Lake Erie. In the marine mode, the water portion of the multimodal journey is only 105 km across the lake.
However, current interpretation of U.S. legislation on the definition of a ferryboat require the operators to send border officials an electronic manifest 24 hours before the cargo is loaded on to the vessel — even though the exact same trailers or containers would only require one or two hours notice if they entered the U.S. via truck or rail.
“The regulation’s interpretation makes this initiative unfeasible. Short sea shipping operations should be treated in the same manner as rail and truck,” the groups insist.
While Southern Ontario border crossings seem to be the most overwhelmed at the moment, the report looks at initiatives to mitigate slowdowns all across the country.
In B.C, for example, where forthcoming construction on the U.S. side of the busy Peace Arch border crossing is expected to grind commercial traffic to a halt, the report recommends increasing traffic handling capacity at nearby land ports.
“To accommodate the upgrading of the Peace Arch border crossing, with out creating undue wait times at the other ports of entry, the Aldergrove crossing should provide 24 hour access for both passenger and commercial traffic, and both the Peace Arch and nearby ports of entry should have sufficient staffing to operate all booths.”
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