Stakeholders pitch ‘border ambassadors’ idea

SARNIA, Ont. — Once upon a time, the purpose of NAFTA meant reducing barriers for freer flowing trade. It’s debatable, though — considering the alphabet soup of security acronyms shippers and carriers face daily — whether that’s still true.

That’s why a group of Canadian stakeholders — led by Ken James, former MPP who’s now chairman of Blue Water Bridge Canada  — want to make sure governments on both sides of the border don’t lose sight of NAFTA’s original mandate.

According to the Times Herald of Port Huron, the group is proposing that ‘special ambassadors’ for the U.S. and Canada are appointed to specifically address longstanding issues that lead to "thickening" trade at international crossings.

The ambassadors, the group suggests, would report directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama and would be charged with auditing whether all the new rules related to the border are reasonable or redundant

James outlined the plan in a letter to Harper last year and more recently unveiled the details to U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, during a meeting in Sarnia.

"This thickening situation is getting worse," James said. The issue "has to rise to the top of the heap."

The concept isn’t new and has been floated by business leaders in the past.

… except when it comes to easing trade

In an interview with Today’s Trucking in 2007, Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley proposed a so-called "border czar" who would lead his own federal department or chair a committee of parliamentarians focused solely on border issues.

Bradley argued that Homeland Security is an ever-expanding bureaucracy unable to keep up with problems carriers face day-to-day; and in Canada, it may be a case of too many cooks handling the file, as up to eight federal ministers could get involved in border and trade issues at any given time.

Historically, special ambassadors have worked to resolve binational issues, James pointed out, citing softwood lumber clean air legislation as two examples.

According to the Herald, Rep. Miller, who’s also a member of Congress’ Committee on Homeland Security, says she understood the concerns, but couldn’t promise she’d pitch the idea to new U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

Miller did say she has spoken to Napolitano "quite a bit about the northern border."


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