Border initiatives between Canada and U.S. moving far too slowly: John Manley

OTTAWA – Bilateral efforts to ease trade, travel and commerce across the Canada-U.S. border are in desperate need of a shot in the arm, says the head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

John Manley says a historic opportunity to slash red tape at the Canada-U.S. boundary is in real danger of slipping away.

Progress so far has been “disappointingly modest,” Manley says in prepared comments obtained by The Canadian Press in advance of his meeting Friday with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and 100 Canadian and U.S. business leaders in Detroit.

“In practical terms, Beyond the Border has yet to improve the experience at the border for shippers and business travellers to any significant degree,” he says in the remarks.

“Pilot projects are important and necessary, but the real test is whether those pilots will be transformed into generalized border management practices.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama announced the Beyond the Border and Regulatory Co-operation Council initiatives during a meeting at the White House in December 2011.

Their aim was to promote economic growth, job creation and competitiveness by streamlining cross-border travel and trade. The border thickened significantly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with many Americans, elected and otherwise, erroneously believing that the perpetrators entered the U.S. via Canada.

Despite some movement forward on the overall goals of Beyond the Border, Manley says there’s still no sign of a comprehensive pre-clearance and pre-inspection agreement for passengers and cargo, nor an expansion of benefits for trusted traders.

Both are top priorities for exporters and other firms that do cross-border business.

“The real question is how we can stop adding to the pile of misaligned regulations with our largest trading partner and begin to reduce it,” Manley says.

“The Canada-U.S. Regulatory Co-operation Council has done some good work in harmonizing the 29 areas identified in 2011 — but the universe of divergent regulations is vast.”

Manley’s organization lobbies the government on behalf of Canada’s biggest corporations, representing 150 chief executives across the country.

His remarks come just a few weeks after dozens of different organizations and trade associations complained in a dispatch published on the U.S. Federal Register about the lack of momentum in bilateral attempts to decongest the border between the world’s two biggest trading partners.

The council, those groups charged, is also disregarding new ideas and ignoring those industries most affected by border barriers.

The document was among several about the RCC posted to the register, the official daily journal of the U.S. government that contains most routine publications and public notices concerning various federal agencies.

The organizations complained they weren’t being consulted about how to improve the situation at the border, and warned the work might not lead to any tangible results — a sentiment with which Manley seems to agree.

“From reducing the burden of duplicative paperwork for large shippers to expanding our trusted-traveller program to include Mexico, we have a long way to go to improve North American border efficiency,” he says in the remarks.

Manley’s organization recently urged Harper to make the Beyond the Border initiatives and regulatory harmonization a priority during the current session of Parliament.