Canada, U.S. unveil new border deals
Josh Visser, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, December 7, 2011 9:55PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 6:47AM EDT
Canada and the United States unveiled two plans Wednesday intended to tighten border security while speeding up travel and trade and aligning regulations between the two countries.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Washington Wednesday meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, and called the two deals the most "significant step forward in Canada-U.S. co-operation since the North American Free Trade Agreement."
Harper said that the deals will create a "new, modern border for a new century" to improve perimeter security with smart systems and ease travel and trade within the continent.
"We also believe that, just as threats should be stopped at the perimeter, trusted travellers should cross the border more quickly," Harper said in the text of his speech.
"Indeed, these priorities are complementary: The key that locks the door against terrorists also opens a wider gate to cross-border trade and travel."
While expansive in scope, the two plans are focused on creating working groups and pilot projects and offer little in terms of immediate effects. Many of the main initiatives are three to four years away.
The most controversial part of the 62-point deal -- a plan to exchange entry information for all people crossing the Canada-U.S. border, which would serve as a record of exit from the other country -- is not expected until 2014.
The delays could threaten parts of the deal because it is being driven by the Obama White House and the Prime Minister's Office in Ottawa. While Harper has a majority government for several more years, the Obama administration has an election campaign to think about and is hardly guaranteed to stay in office. A Republican president could scuttle the deal.
The Action Plan on Perimeter Security and Economic Competiveness outlined four areas for Canada and the U.S. to co-operate on: addressing security threats early; facilitating trade, economic growth and jobs; integrating cross-border law enforcement; and improving infrastructure and cyber-security.
"We will improve information sharing while respecting each country's respective constitutional and legal frameworks," the action plan says.
The plan to push security to the perimeter of North America includes steps to screen cargo at the port of first arrival, screen air passengers at the point of departure and introduce entry-exit verification.
New fast lanes may also be built at border crossings to make it easier for trucks to pass through.
For Canadian air travellers, one of the main benefits of the plan would be not having their baggage rescreened when flying through a U.S. hub.
The security plan includes an initiative for a pilot program to integrate some border law-enforcement teams and improve cross-border communication between law-enforcement agencies.
The Action Plan on Regulatory Cooperation identifies 29 initiatives where Canada and the U.S. can align their regulatory approaches in agriculture and food, transportation and other areas.
"This Action Plan on Regulatory Cooperation will break down regulatory barriers and will make it easier for our firms and manufacturers to do business on both sides of the border," Harper said.
The government says border efficiencies with the U.S. cost the Canadian economy about $16 billion a year.
One of the biggest changes will be an expansion of trusted shipper programs, which will move some inspections away from the border to the factory, which businesses say will greatly speed up trade and save money.
According to the deal, pharmaceutical and food products will be pre-screened at factories, rather than examined both in Canada and the United States.
Another plan is to align the naming of products. For example, giving a cut of meat the same name in both the U.S. and Canada to avoid confusion for customers.
"In the U.S., terms such as 'peameal bacon,' 'chicken tenderloin' and 'flatiron steak' are widely used, however these terms are not permitted in Canada," says a government backgrounder.
"Every rule needs a reason," Harper said. "Where no adequate reason exists for a rule or standard, and that standard hinders us from doing business on both sides of the border, that rule needs to be re-examined."
The changes could mean that products that were once governed by different regulations on each side of the border could one day fall under one set of guidelines.
This could affect a variety of items, from soup -- which is fortified with calcium and vitamins in many American states but not in Canada -- to car dashboards, where some symbols are different.
Canada and the United States famously share the world's longest undefended border at over 9,000 kilometres in length. More than $1.5 billion in goods crosses over the border every day.
The border deals have been received positively by the business community.
"It's good news for Canadian business, it's good news for Canadian travellers," Perrin Beatty of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told CTV's Power Play Wednesday. "Some days the government gets it right."
John Manley, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and a former Liberal finance minister, told The Canadian Press the deals were "a valuable step forward."
Peter Julian, the NDP finance critic, expressed concern about privacy under the new deals.
"Some Canadians are going to reject this. . . we have very different privacy regimes in Canada and the United States," he told Power Play. "This government is not good at protecting Canadians' privacy."
Francis Scarpaleggia, the Liberal public safety critic, says the deal must be looked at closely by Members of Parliament.
"It's very important that Canadians through Parliament have an opportunity to scrutinize," he said.
Harper and Obama met for 45 minutes in the Oval Office Wednesday. Obama said the pair also discussed the controversial Keystone pipeline.
The U.S. president said it's important that all issues related to the Keystone plan "are properly understood."
The Obama administration decided to put the project to a further review, pushing it behind next year's election. Republicans have criticized the move as putting politics ahead of jobs.
Harper has repeatedly said the Keystone project is vital to the Canadian economy.