Border deal could save businesses $30B a year, says Minister Fast

Oct 26, 2011

Clearing up restrictions that clog the Canada-U.S. border could save businesses in both countries as much as $30 billion a year, according to Canada's minister of international trade.

That's the key to the first phase of a Canada-U.S. perimeter security deal now being negotiated, Ed Fast said during an appearance on CTV's Question Period Sunday morning.

"We would like to see something passed quickly," Fast said. "The cost to Canadians and Americans alike of current barriers across our border are estimated at $15-to-30-billion a year."

Speaking from Vancouver, the minister said he couldn't discuss negotiations until an announcement is made but admitted, "We've made excellent progress."

Easing trade restrictions was one element of the so-called Beyond the Border action plan that was announced eight months ago but Fast said negotiators have "narrowed the scope" of the talks from a wide-ranging border security agreement.

When asked about recent "Buy America" rumblings from U.S. politicians, Fast suggested the posturing was being done for political reasons.

"The Buy America provisions are bad trade policy," he said. "Bad for Canada, bad for the United States because of how integrated out economies are."

He pointed out that $650 billion in trade crosses the border annually, which breaks down to $1.8 billion a day.

Early this month, The Canadian Press reported the border security deal will bolster information sharing on security threats, better align the countries' food and auto industries, and ensure consultation on land border crossings.

Sources said it is a scaled-down version of the sweeping vision to fortify the continent announced eight months ago, steering clear of contentious ideas about harmonizing Canadian and U.S. immigration systems. The deal will cost Canada an estimated $1-billion for new border facilities and programs and will be paid for with money cut from existing programs, CP reported.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., both countries have faced the challenge of shielding the continent from another assault without impeding the flow of trade across a vast border.

Business leaders in both countries have railed against a buildup of red tape they say has undermined one of the world's most lucrative trading relationships.

Last Monday, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection visited Ottawa to meet with the heads of the Canada Border Service Agency and the RCMP and to reassure business groups concerned about the controversial agreement, suggesting a "thinner" border for low-risk travellers and cargo traffic.

Alan Bersin said under the deal Canada and the U.S. would exchange information on risky travellers and cargo, but not on all traffic.

"It's not to willy-nilly share data that would violate notions of privacy and civil liberties … but to share alerts and alarms that are being raised," he said.

Ottawa and Washington are hoping that business groups will cheer the deal that is expected to see Canada co-operate more closely with the U.S. on security screening -- including information-sharing -- in return for speedier travel across the shared border.

Bersin said he thinks the U.S. needs to find ways of expediting low-risk cargo and travellers to focus resources on high-risk traffic. "By thinning out the border, by moving and expediting lawful trade and travel, you actually enhance your security profile," he said.

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