Border operator slams CBSA

TORONTO — An American border operator says Canada is falling far behind the U.S. when it comes to technology, creating unnecessary strain at land crossings between the two countries.

Speaking at a conference of the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters (I.E. Canada) earlier this week, Ron Rienas, general manager of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (also known as the Peace Bridge Authority) accused Canada Border Services Agency of not keeping up with the latest technology to move people and goods across the border.

"Canada has not been investing in processing technology which is hampering the speed of throughput," Rienas said. While the Canadian government has spent millions of dollars on improvements to physical infrastructure, it is missing more important gains by not investing in processing technology.

"Constructing infrastructure is a colossal waste of money if the resources and management practices are not in place to adequately staff and manage that new infrastructure," he said.

Rienas said members of the Public Border Operators Association are growing increasingly concerned about CBSA’s ability to keep cross-border traffic flowing.

"A couple of years ago, it was the other way around but right now the issue is CBSA."

Although border traffic is down significantly overall this year, Rienas used compelling pictures of miles-long line-ups at the Peace Bridge over the Labour Day weekend this year to prove his point.

US Customs used to be the problem; now CBSA
is letting down Canadian shippers, says Rienas.

At no time during this busy border-crossing weekend were all the inspection lanes open. At most only 9 of 15 lanes were accessible; and at some points only seven lanes were open. The result, he say, was two to three hours to cross the border into Canada.

"Why spend the money on the infrastructure if it’s not going to get staffed?" he asked. "If a hotel operated its check-in or check-out desk the way (Canadian authorities) treat the border, they’d be out of business long ago."

By contrast, the U.S. has spent very little on physical infrastructure in recent years, but has invested $1.4 billion since 2002 on its automated commercial environment for commercial transactions and hundreds of millions more for technologically advanced inspection lanes and booths to read FAST, Nexus, and other RFID cards.

Rienas says that the Canadian government isn’t properly supporting initiatives for passenger cars drivers such as enhanced drivers licenses with embedded RFID chips or the Nexus program.

Furthermore, he said, CBSA does not extend hours of operation for special events. "So when Ontario residents travel to Buffalo to watch real hockey," he said, pausing to allow some good natured groans from real hockey fans, "they can’t use Nexus to come back in the country because the hours stop at 8 o’clock at night. That doesn’t make a lot of sense."

The result, he said, is that the border is seen as an increasingly hostile environment.

"We’re seeing dramatic border avoidance," he said. "Even with a strong Canadian dollar, we’re seeing Canadians staying away from the border."

On the commercial trade front, Rienas said that the FAST program, in principle, is a great trusted shipper program but increasingly it’s not seen as delivering the promised benefits. The same applies to PIP and CTPAT.

"We all know that it’s costly and time consuming to become a trusted shipper. Even though you are a trusted shipper, you have multiple inspections by FDA, you have off-loading inspection fees; you have less-than-truckloads ineligible for the program. No infrastructure for FAST lanes at a number of border crossing. So quite rightly, many are asking why bother?" he said.

"As a border operator we are very concerned about that sentiment. We’re concerned because we need more companies involved in entrusted shipper programs or else the border simply will not function the way they’re capable of functioning."

He said both governments need to sit down with business and other stakeholders like I.E. Canada with the objective of improving the trusted shipper programs.

"We need to solve some of these problems," he said. "From a border operator’s perspective, we need fewer lofty announcements and a much greater commitment to doing some simple, common-sense things that make a real difference to how the border functions."

— by Allan Janssen 

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