Breaking the border impasse: the federal government is bolstering border security with new investments, while trying to make trade more efficient.
Canada's federal government has stepped up with a series of security initiatives and continues to cast a keen eye on border operations in the wake of world tension over terrorism. At the same time, it is trying to strike a balance between respecting the rights of individuals and maintaining national security.
Federal authorities emphasize that it's essential to keep pace with the U.S. Since 9/11, the U.S. has pursued an aggressive policy of border protection, including the development of technology systems employing sophisticated sensor arrays, radiation screening devices that detect the presence of nuclear materials, tripling the number of border patrol agents on the U.S.-Canada border and the delivery of secure traveler programs that allow pre-screened, low-risk travelers to be processed expeditiously.
The cost of delays
Responding to change, the Canadian government established the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC) in December 2003. PSEPC is responsible for protecting Canadians and maintaining a peaceful and safe society; at the same time, the federal government created the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The CBSA consolidated border services into one agency providing an integrated approach to protecting safety and security while facilitating the flow of trade and travel.
Making that flow seamless and efficient won't come soon enough for Canada's business community.
The Coalition for Secure and Trade-Efficient Borders, an organization comprising 55 Canadian business associations and individual companies (and chaired by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Federation of Independent Business) recently released its fourth post-9/11 report.
Entitled Rethinking our Borders: A New North American Partnership, the report says that problems continue to plague exporters, from a diverse range of confusing customs rules which are "more complex today than ever before and (that) are enforced differently by different inspectors at different crossings," to onerous paperwork requirements, lack of dedicated commercial vehicle lanes for pre-approved carriers and increased delays for business travelers.
The report cites an Ontario Chamber of Commerce study estimating that border delays cost the Canadian and American economies $13.6 billion annually and says processing times at the border have increased 300%. For instance, losses in the automotive industry can mean that a shipment of 4,000 vehicles may involve up to 28,000 separate customs transactions. These reporting, compliance and delay costs can add up to $800 per vehicle.
According to the coalition, "it is time for a strategic assessment of border priorities against the changes and initiatives of the past nearly four years since 9/11. It is critical that the Canada-U.S. border not become a self-imposed and costly barrier to trade and investment within North America and either unfairly or unnecessarily disadvantage Canadian and U.S. business."
Finding a focal point
For its part, the Canadian government says the PSEPC is trying to keep pace with demand for secure-but-speedy border crossings.
This past July, Anne McLellan, deputy prime minister and minister of PSEPC, announced measures to improve border operations management that included the hiring of border officers and investments in security infrastructure. McLellan's announcement was part of a $433 million, five-year commitment under the 2005 Budget to hire 270 additional border officers through the CBSA.
McLellan also announced the launch of a consultation process on a new Fairness Initiative to ensure that Canadians and visitors to Canada are treated fairly and can expect to receive the best possible service when crossing the border and in all other dealings with the CBSA.
"It is critical to our commitment to secure the Canada-U.S. border while ensuring the efficient flow of legitimate trade and traffic," said McLellan.
With 12,000 employees (5,000 of them uniformed officers) at 1,200 service points Canada-wide and 39 locations internationally, CBSA is the focal point for enhancing cross-border efficiencies.
Canadian security has played an increasingly prominent role since 9/11 and "from 2001-2005 federal budgets have allocated over $9 billion towards security initiatives," said Zuwena Robidas, a spokesperson for PSEPC.
As part of McLellan's recent announcement, CBSA will also invest funds for training, tools and equipment, including radio equipment to support employees who work alone, facility design modifications and the management of health and safety programs.
In addition to providing more effective response to operational and security demands and border congestion at key border locations across the country, the allocation will also ensure permanent funding for service delivery at Pearson International Airport as well as programs such as the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program, which expedites border clearance for pre-approved, low-risk truck drivers, carriers and importers.
These changes are in line with recommendations from the Coalition for Secure and Trade-Efficient Borders' report for better staffing of border points, particularly for carriers under the FAST program. The coalition has also asked that the CBSA boost its IT capacity to deliver commercial information programs, allowing traffic to pass through border points more quickly.
Economic and public security
But more needs to be done, said Gordon Cherry, director of commercial policy for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME). Cherry said the business community has several urgent issues at stake, not least of which is a contingency plan for the border should a terrorist attack occur.
"While we appreciate that the government is doing some things that we're looking for, there are some urgent things that need to be addressed," said Cherry. "To our knowledge, we don't have a contingency plan to handle border closure in the event of an attack. It appears that the border would just be shut down. That's one of the main concerns: is there a plan, and can we be active partners in it?"
Amelie Morin, a spokesperson for CBSA, countered that while "the very nature of our operations prevents us from discussing details, I can say that during a time of emergency, whether resulting from a terrorist act or a natural event, coordination of emergency processes between the CBSA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are key to ensuring that appropriate measures are taken to ensure the maintenance of high levels of security at the border while ensuring the unimpeded movement of legitimate travelers and traders."
Cherry said his group is also recommending the establishment of a 'reverse inspection model' to handle inspection of trucks going to and from the U.S. Under the model, the U.S. inspection would be on the Canadian side and vice versa. As it stands now, "the critical border infrastructure is at risk today. If you introduce the reverse inspection model you reduce the risk."
The federal government is also making additional investments, including $134 million over five years for two security initiatives:
* The Container Security Initiative, a partnership with the U.S., involving deployment of staff to overseas ports to boost security measures and harmonize commercial processes to better protect North America; and
* A marine security initiative that will protect Canada from the entry of illicit radioactive sources, irregular migration and security threats at Canada's marine ports and gateways.
For its part, the Coalition for Secure and Trade-Efficient Borders will continue to keep tabs on the feds' initiatives, said CME's Cherry. "The cost of getting goods across the border is just too much. Security is important but we need to do it in a way that isn't costing us in our competitiveness. If it's costing too much to trade, people won't trade. North American business is saying it's costing too much to cross the border. They're saying we need to pay attention to economic as well as public security."
John Cooper (email@example.com) is a Whitby, Ont.-based freelance writer.
PSEPC Federal Budget allocations:
2001-2004: allocation of more than $8.3 billion, including:
* $7.7 billion provided in Budget 2001 for a range of new security measures;
* An additional $680 million in Budgets 2003 and 2004 for the security reserve created in Budget 2001;
* More than $1 billion in Budget 2005 to support further investments in the areas of emergency planning and response, transportation and border security, and in increasing Canada's international presence.
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|Title Annotation:||anti terrosism measures|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2005|
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