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Strong security at the border doesn’t have to mean slowing trade

Every day, $2 billion in trade crosses the border between Canada and the U.S., not to mention hundreds of thousands of people. And, while that crossing has become more complicated in the years since September 2001, critics caution that maintaining the balance between the needs of security and the needs of trade has to be done with a measured approach.

Moderating a discussion on balancing trade and security at the Public-Private Sector Summit on National Security, National Security in Ottawa in May, Group vice-chairperson of operations, Scott Newark, praised the conference’s title Stronger Borders, Better Trade as being apropos to the reason participants were there.

“Implicit (in the name) is the fact that stronger does not always mean more,” he says. “Normally, security and trade are viewed as competing concepts. But, done correctly and driven by intelligence, security has the capacity to increase the efficiency of trade.”

“A secure border with long delays in processing goods, people and data is certainly not smart, even if it might be secure,” says then associate deputy minister of Public Safety Canada and now Commissioner of the RCMP, William Elliott. “Nor is a border that fails to comprehensively and effectively address security smart. What we want is fast and secure”¦this is, by no means, an easy task. As my colleagues are well aware, we don’t have all the answers and there is a significant number of challenges ahead.”

Elliott outlined government spending on anti-terrorism and public safety which grew by 43.6 per cent between fiscal 2002/03 and fiscal 2006/07 with the 2006 budget including $1.4 billion to deal with public safety, emergency preparedness and preparedness for public health threats. Since September 2001, the Canadian government has increased funding on national security, which “is not by any means a small number, especially by an economy of our size.”

He said several initiatives have been launched both in Canada, culminating in the bringing together of several agencies including the RCMP, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Canadian Border Service Agency and the Correctional Service of Canada. Agreements were also signed between the U.S., Canada and Mexico including the 2005 Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). The SPP was designed to go beyond earlier agreements including the Canada/U.S. Smart Border declaration and action plan in 2001 by expanding areas of transport security, pandemic planning, business resumption planning and others.

“Although this has not had a high profile for the average North American, there has been a fair amount of media attention from time-to-time,” says Elliott. “Some sectors and interest groups have voiced support and others have inaccurately labelled it a conspiracy to fully integrate North America. Obviously, there is more we need to do to address these concerns.”

“We are all endeared to know that our U.S. friends take security very, very, very seriously,” says Mark Seymour, chair of the Ontario Trucking Association. “An example is that a truck driver is not allowed to take a ham sandwich over the border for fear that it will contaminate all of the U.S. My take on that is, if it’s fit to eat, it’s not fit for terrorism.”

Nevertheless, Seymour says several initiatives including the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) initiative, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) line-release program and the ACE e-manifest programs are having a significant impact on the trucking industry in terms of time and costs. In particular, the line release initiative and ACE e-manifest are designed to provide information to border crossings ahead of a truck’s arrival at the border with the intent of speeding the truck through the border crossing in a shorter amount of time.

However, with the deadline having come and gone for its implementation, Seymour says education of carriers, brokers and drivers has fallen behind with many customers still asking questions.

“This is a real cultural shift, considering the average age of our drivers is 50-plus and their years of services is 20-plus, you can imagine they’re pretty entrenched in their ways,” he says. It’s really quite a process to train, train, train. For the carrier, it’s really quite a question of accountability because, when we get to the border, if there is a problem, it’s our problem. It’s not our customer’s problem. It could mean denial or monetary penalties and the first non-compliance starts at $5,000 and each subsequent one after that is $10,000 so it is very punitive for not populating the right box with the right information.”

James Phillips, president and CEO of the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance says the initiatives Seymour pointed to were incomplete and the effort underway now is to interdict high-risk people and goods well before they reach the border. That means moving border agents out into the world at points of departure.

“You are not going to get economic security between the U.S. and Canada until you are able to seamlessly move low risk goods and people and to do that, you have to do your trade facilitation off the border,” he says.


July 10, 2007
By Andrew Wareing

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