Old US, Canada Border Relationship Now Needs Appropriate Strategies

Oct. 3, 2001
Canada must now move to redefine border relationship with the United States, according to David Bradley, chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking

Canada must now move to redefine border relationship with the United States, according to David Bradley, chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

"The challenge now for all of us is to accept that things will be different--that business as usual is not what it used to be, and to devise appropriate strategies to move forward," Bradley said, speaking at the Council of Logistics Management Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, October 2.

His remarks came in response to the trucking industry situation after the terrorists attack on New York and Washington.

"The domestic challenge the governments of the United States and Canada face will be how best to balance the need for increased security with the need to keep the economy moving," he said. "Border policy is an area where the clash of these two priorities is most evident. The United States and Canada share the world's longest undefended border. The two countries enjoy the proceeds from the world's largest trading partnership."

In the days immediately following the terrorist attack, the border between Canada and the United States was virtually paralyzed as the US Custom Service was placed on high alert. The situation created problems for several industries that rely on just-in-time shipments of parts to keep the assembly lines running, as well as for truckers hauling perishable commodities and livestock, he said.

"But does that mean then that we will have to accept delays and gridlock at our common border as part of the fallout from the terrorist attacks?" he asked. "Clearly the answer is no. Our two economies are too integrated. Too many jobs, in too many communities on both sides of the border rely on trade moving efficiently."

Over $1 billion daily worth of trade crosses the US-Canada border every year and this is expected to double again before this decade is out. Close to 70 per cent of Canada/U.S. trade moves by truck. Each year there are about 14 million truck trips across the border, one every 2 1/2 seconds, he said.

Just-in-Time inventory systems, synchronous manufacturing, and other time sensitive production and distribution practices have been built around the truck.

In the days immediately following the attack, one analyst offered the opinion that it spelled the end of just in time. "If we accepted the status quo, he would probably be right. A just in time system cannot operate unless there exists reliability of supply. But the status quo is not an option. In light of heightened US security concerns, there will clearly have to be much more focus on targeting enforcement at the perimeter of each country in order to stop undesirables at first point of entry."

Called the perimeter clearance approach, this strategy already has strong supporters both in the United States and in Canada. Proposed for the first time by Canada's former ambassador to the United States a couple of years ago, American ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci is now also pushing the concept aggressively, said Bradley.

Perimeter clearance means the US and Canada working closely together to strengthen protection of the external borders in order to free the movement of people and goods at our common border. Over time, such a strategy would likely result in a high level of harmonization of everything from immigration and security policies to food inspection practices. It would mean the integration of Canadian and US border controls for travelers and goods. And over time, it could mean the elimination of border processing between Canada and the United States, he said.

"There are those in Canada who believe that moving toward a perimeter border strategy would result in having our laws re-written in Washington," Bradley said. "They argue that such a strategy would blur those lines we hold as a test of sovereignty. Before September 11, our organization was among those that felt the proposal would lead to such interminable debate on the nature of our relation with the United States that much-needed incremental progress on border issues would be delayed.

"But those planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers changed all that. They served as painful notice that in the face of global terrorism the old concepts of state, sovereignty, and security are meaningless.

"New partnerships must be developed now to enhance our common security while at the same time allowing for commerce to continue and to grow. Our border must not be allowed to become a source of friction between our two countries. It must not become a barrier to commerce or to economic growth."

One-third of Canada's GDP is dependent upon trade with the United States. It is clear that in the current context it will not be possible to begin discussions on strategies to eliminate border disruptions unless the government of Canada takes immediate steps to address US security concerns, Bradley said.

"But there are sufficient voices in every corner of the administration and of the US Congress already clamoring for tougher controls that if our government does not seize this opportunity we may well see border gridlock as part of the permanent landscape," he said.

On September 26th, the government of Canada took an important first step announcing tougher screening of immigrants and fraud proof identity cards for Canadian residents. "Having taken that first step we are hopeful that Canada and the United States will begin bilateral discussions on improving perimeter security," he said.