Today the Canadian and U.S. governments reported back on their first year of progress on the “Beyond the Border” Action Plan launched by Stephen Harper and Barack Obama in December 2011, and on their effort on “Regulatory Cooperation.” This is the attempt to erect a “perimeter” of security around North American while easing trade and travel between Canada and the U.S.
Alongside their accomplishments, the governments admit that progress has been slow in some areas. A few examples from the report on regulatory cooperation:
- On consultations with stakeholders: “Initial feedback indicates that – stakeholders have been encouraged by the outreach, but that there is considerable room for additional engagement”
- On achieving “Equivalence of Meat Safety Systems”: “Due to a range of issues, progress on the underlying equivalence project has been slower than anticipated.”
- On meat and poultry export certification: “Work on this front is still in its initial stages and has not advanced as quickly as anticipated.”
This is complicated stuff and no one expects overnight changes. But timing matters, too. For example, the governments reported progress on a pilot projects for harmonizing cargo screening for North-America-bound cargo at the ports of Prince Rupert and Montreal. There is a risk that quick progress on such “perimeter” elements coupled with slow progress on expediting the land border between Canada and the U.S. could inadvertently disadvantage North American manufacturers relative to exporters from, say, Asia or Europe.
Says Birgit Matthiesen, the Washington representative for the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters:
“With the increased competition from third countries in the last few years, and what is anticipated from the TPP and Canada-EU trade agreement, manufacturers in Canada and the U.S., and their business partners, are going to be looking for real relief from transactional costs and compliance burdens at the land border. If not, the North American supply chain could be at a competitive disadvantage.”
She has drawn up a comparison of what the leaders promised in the Action Plan, and what they have delivered so far, on the items of interest to manufacturers. I have posted it here.
In an interview today, U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson conceded that while the majority of deadlines were met, there are many items on the action plan that have not been completed, and added this is a “complex” problem with “years of work” ahead. “Our work is not yet done,” he said.
Jacobson highlighted the expansion of the NEXUS card system, and the agreement signed yesterday on sharing information on visa applicants from third countries as two important accomplishments to date.
On NEXUS, Jacobson said:
“We’ve done two things: significantly increased number of people participating, and at the same time, we have increased the benefits people get form participating. When you fly from Reagan to somewhere in U.S., you go through a pre-check lane for anyone with a NEXUS card. The lane has far fewer people in it. You don’t take off your shoes, you don’t take your computer out, you don’t take your liquids out of your suitcase, you don’t take off your coat. You whiz through. It makes it easier for you, and it makes it easier for everyone else without a NEXUS card because time not spent on you can be spent on [them]. And it makes us all more secure, because they aren’t spending time on someone who doesn’t need to be screened.”
On the new security procedures for air cargo screening:
“When you fly from Toronto to Minneapolis and change planes and continue to Kansas City, historically, [your baggage] had to be screened twice. Now you check it once, and you don’t have to be screened again.”
On the agreement on information-sharing on visa applicants from third countries:
“If someone applied for a visa to the U.S. and was turned down, historically, we didn’t tell Canada about that and vice-versa. What happens all too frequently is someone is turned down in one country, and applies to the country. Now, if someone is rejected or overstays their visa, we will make that information available to the other country. It doesn’t mean the other country has to make one decision or another [about admitting the applicant], but they make their own decision with the benefit of knowledge.”