CTA voices border concerns at economic summit

BOISE, Idaho — The Canadian Trucking Alliance is concerned that border problems are being masked by the economic downturn and congestion of the past will return unless changes are made.

David Bradley, CEO of the CTA, took that message with him when he traveled to the Annual Summit of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) in Boise, Idaho.

PNWER is a public-private organization comprising five U.S. states (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington), three provinces (Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan) as well as the Yukon. Together the regions represent the 11th largest economy in the world. This year’s PNWER summit was held in Boise, ID.

Bradley told the gathering of legislators and business people from the northwest region of the continent that problems at the border are currently being masked by lower volumes of trade reflecting the ongoing recession and therefore fewer cross-border truck trips.

He warned that a return to more normal traffic levels could mean a return to longer delays and less predictability at the busiest border crossings and that "anything that impairs the efficiency, productivity and reliability of the North American supply chain impacts negatively on the region’s ability to compete, to attract direct investment and to take full advantage of economic recovery when it comes."

He said that improved security and trade facilitation do not have to be mutually exclusive and said that some of the programs introduced in recent years to improve security, such as the move to automate some of the information requirements needed for truck to clear the border, have actually had, or have the potential to have, a positive impact on trade facilitation.

But, overall he said there can be "no denying that the border is less efficient than it was before and there were problems at the border prior to 9/11."

"Creating a more secure, efficient and flexible border will require the restoration of a risk assessment focus, real value-added benefits from participation in low-risk trade programs, appropriate levels of inspectors, and strategic investment in infrastructure – and not just bricks and mortar but systems as well," he says.

Bradley also noted that the U.S. and Canada need to continue to work together to coordinate and reciprocally recognize programs on both sides of the border.

Among the things Bradley says governments should concentrate on are ending the duplication of low risk security cards that truck drivers must carry, making it easier for low-risk companies to move goods in-transit through the other country, issuing a challenge to all ports to improve throughput by 25%, and allowing trucking companies to show they practice due diligence before losing their low-risk status for minor violations.

According to Bradley, what happens away from the border is as important as what happens at the border.

"The border is part of a system; it starts wherever freight is picked up or delivered to. We need to win back some of the efficiency lost at the border elsewhere in the freight transportation system," he says.

He said there is a role for both the federal and state/provincial governments in this regard. In addition to the usual things like strategic investment in key economic highway corridors, competitive taxation and modernized regulatory environments, he said that governments in both countries should be looking at harmonizing customs and immigration laws so for example, foreign drivers could reposition foreign empty trailers.

He suggested looking at ways to increase the level of harmonization of truck weights and dimensions standards would be useful and urged governments to coordinate environmental standards pertaining to truck emissions.

He also pointed to issues that trucking companies from the PNWER jurisdictions will have in complying with new California heavy truck emission regulations and the proliferation of different biodiesel standards as examples.

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