No relief in sight on border slowdown : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

POSTED AT 2:01 AM EST Monday, October 29

No relief in sight on border slowdown

By BARRIE McKENNA From Monday's Globe and Mail

Washington — Years of intense inspections and long waits at the Canada-U.S. border may be the price to pay for what the Bush administration has called the "new normalcy" of homeland defence.

Customs experts and businesses on both sides of the border are girding for a new era at the border — an era in which expediting traffic will take a back seat to heavy security.

On Friday, U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law a sweeping anti-terrorism bill that will triple the number of U.S. customs, immigration and border patrol agents guarding the 49th parallel.

The so-called Patriot Act also allocates $100-million (U.S.) for new policing technology on the Canada-U.S. border.

But those measures may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Congress is now considering legislation to force the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to speed up implementation of a long-delayed system to track every foreigner entering and leaving the United States. Canada has long argued that entry-and-exit controls — even automated ones — will snarl traffic at land border crossings.

Meanwhile, a series of programs introduced in the 1990s to help create a seamless border have been indefinitely suspended, including the popular NEXUS program, under which hundreds of thousands of prescreened travellers zip through border checkpoints.

The Canadian government is pushing the U.S. government to resume these and other programs, and to investigate innovative ways to expedite low-risk traffic.

But for now, there appears to be no relief in sight for persistent delays of an hour or more for cars and trucks entering the United States at key border crossings, such as the Windsor-Detroit Bridge.

"It's going to be this way for a long, long time," suggested former U.S. customs commissioner George Weise. "We're in for a long ride."

Truckers, exporters and travelers should expect a lot more scrutiny, more searches of cargo and people and, new costly rules and regulations, insisted Mr. Weise, now vice-president of trade compliance with Vastera Inc., a transportation consultant based in Dulles, Va.

"This is a new paradigm — a new threat — and the northern border is not as well protected from that perspective," he said. "Canadians may be frustrated by the delays, but it still hasn't got the scrutiny that the southern border has."

Experts expect a vast array of new technology to be deployed on the Canadian border, including vehicle X-ray equipment, cameras and sensors once used mainly against drug smugglers, according to Mr. Weise.

After meeting U.S. Homeland Security director Tom Ridge in Washington last week, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley suggested he had won a commitment from the Bush administration to make border trade a top priority.

But many businesses that depend on the border remain unconvinced. Massimo Bergamini, vice-president of governmental affairs for the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said more armed guards at the border means the United States is going to be doing more inspections, not facilitating trade.

"The U.S. is rethinking the border unilaterally to deal with a security threat, and facilitation isn't part of that debate," Mr. Bergamini said. "We've got to make sure we don't have a wall."

Mr. Bergamini complained that Ottawa was slow to engage the U.S. administration in border talks after the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes in New York and Washington. And he warned that unless Canada can convince the United States that its own borders are secure, the unpredictability of customs delays could quickly escalate into companies relocating to the United States.

"There are no guarantees," he said. "Everything is so fluid. We're one bomb threat away from messing that up."

The border has become so unpredictable that many businesses and individuals are simply choosing not to cross, said Nancy Hughes Anthony, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Longer term, companies will rethink investments and shift inventories to cope with the uncertainty.

"We have a largely integrated economy," she said. "My concern in the long term is that people will make investment decisions because they think the border is just going to be too difficult."

The solution, she and others argue, is to convince the United States to work with Canada to enhance security along the 49th parallel, reduce redundancies and shore up Canada's points of entry to avert terrorist threats — so-called "perimeter security."

Among the ideas that have been suggested: •Conduct customs inspections where cargo is loaded and then seal containers until they arrive at their destination. •Harmonize customs and immigration procedures, databases and computers. •Create unified ports of entry, where Canadian and U.S. officials would man the border together.

•Hand over prescreening of foreigners entering North America to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. •Prescreen people, freight and shippers that pose a low risk and have no criminal record. •Deploy sophisticated gamma ray screening technology to quickly scan trucks and trains at the border. •Use risk assessment and analysis to focus on threats, while streamlining low-risk traffic.

But all of these measures will be a tough sell in the current political climate, said Mr. Weise, who headed U.S. Customs during the Clinton administration. But in the long term, neither country can afford not to fundamentally rethink the border.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel," Mr. Weise said. "Down the road, maybe not in the next six months or six years, this could lead to efficiencies at our border crossings that we couldn't have contemplated before, and make a safer world to live in."

Ultimately, the huge volume of Canada-U.S. trade will force "cooler heads" to prevail at the border, suggested economist Peter Morici, a trade analyst and Canada watcher at the Washington-based Economic Strategy Institute.

"Historically, it's been possible to get Americans to treat Canada differently," he noted. "The U.S. didn't get involved in [the North American Free-Trade Agreement] — to shut out our partners."

-- Martin Thompson (, October 29, 2001


Last week, the U.S./Canada border crossing at Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan returned to normal. The line-ups in the early morning are 5 minutes or so, which is normal. In the month after the September 11 tragedy, the line-ups were up to 2 hours.

-- Dale Rusling (, October 29, 2001.

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