Editor: On February 4, 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama issued a Declaration on a Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness calling for the development of a joint action plan. How does this development build on the history of Canada-U.S. relations?
Prato: The Beyond the Border Action Plan, along with the Regulatory Cooperation Action Plan, creates a new, modern border for a new century and represents the most significant step forward in Canada-U.S. cooperation since the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Canada and the United States enjoy a partnership rooted in a long history of peaceful coexistence, the defence and promotion of shared values, extensive family ties, and one of the largest and most successful economic relationships in the world.
We have a long history of working together to resolve issues and addressing common challenges, especially in these difficult economic times. Let’s not forget that we are each other's largest single export market. Trade between Canada and the United States has almost doubled since 1994 and is now worth more than half a trillion dollars a year. More than $1.5 billion in goods crosses the border every single day. Millions of jobs in both countries depend on the trade and investment that flow daily across the border between the two countries.
Building on this, the President and Prime Minister articulated in the Border Action Plan a long-term vision for security and economic cooperation, committing our countries to working together to address threats within, at, and away from our border while facilitating lawful trade and travel.
With respect to our longstanding security relations, Canada has no friend among America’s enemies. We have shared the defence of North American airspace through NORAD since the beginning of the Cold War, and our local, state/provincial, and federal law enforcement agencies cooperate extensively on a daily basis. Nevertheless, measures to deal with criminal and terrorist threats can thicken the border, hindering our efforts to create jobs and growth. With the Action Plan, our two governments are taking practical steps to reverse that direction.
Editor: We understand the Plan, also known as the Border Action Plan, is now complete. What are its major components?
Prato: The goal of the Action Plan is to make the perimeter of North America more secure than ever and relieve pressures at the border itself so we can free up the flows of legitimate people, goods and services.
It is not a final agreement on the border, but rather the beginning of joint efforts to improve management of the border over the next few years. Once implemented, this will represent a historic step forward in joint Canada-U.S. efforts to promote greater security and prosperity in North America.
The four key areas are addressing threats at the earliest possible opportunity; facilitating trade, economic growth, and jobs; building on successful cross-border law enforcement programs; and enhancing cross-border critical and cyber infrastructure.
We are already making great progress. Achievements to date include making our air cargo screening programs mutually recognizable and installing new passenger screening machines to end duplicate screening in Canadian airports. We have added NEXUS lanes in U.S. air pre-clearance facilities and streamlined NEXUS renewal procedures. And bi-national Port Committees have been established at our 20 largest land ports of entry and at eight of the largest airports where travellers destined for the U.S. are pre-cleared.
Some of the major initiatives that will come online in the coming months include the streamlining of the movement of cargo, specifically the notion of “checked once, accepted twice.” For example, goods arriving in Canada or the United States from outside the North American perimeter will be screened once at their first point of arrival. They would then be shipped directly to their North American destination without the need for duplicate inspections along the way, even if they cross the land border.
In addition, we are working on an Integrated Cargo Strategy to address risks associated with shipments arriving from offshore. Pilot projects will involve marine cargo arriving at Prince Rupert Port, British Columbia, destined for Chicago by rail, as well as marine cargo arriving at the Port of Montreal destined for the United States by truck.
Two other major components are implementation of a truck cargo pre-inspection pilot project in at least one location in Canada in the coming months, and the introduction of entry-exit verification at ports of entry.
Editor: What are the shared goals, and how does the Plan embrace each nation’s sovereignty and legal frameworks?
Prato: The Action Plan is a shared vision that will be realized by creating a new long-term partnership on public safety and cross-border trade; focusing on joint Canada-U.S. work in the near term on ambitious but achievable goals; and putting in place specific initiatives with clear timelines for delivery and performance measured.
We are building on some already-existing successful joint programs. For example, Canada and the U.S. have longstanding, robust cross-border law enforcement programs. The Shiprider program, for example, employs jointly crewed vessels of cross-designated officers to patrol the waterways between our two countries. The Action Plan seeks to make Shiprider a permanent program.
We also plan to test the Shiprider model in the land border environment by piloting Next-Generation Canada-U.S. integrated border enforcement teams that will include best practices from other existing border programs, such as the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams and the Border Enforcement Security Task Force programs. Canada and the U.S. will also implement a bi-national radio interoperability system to permit law enforcement agencies to coordinate effective bi-national investigations and timely responses to border incidents, using cost-effective, voice-over-Internet technology.
Both Shiprider and the Next Generation pilots will operate under guiding principles that include the respect for sovereignty and fundamental rights and freedoms, notably privacy. Operations will be conducted by specially trained and designated law enforcement personnel under the direction and control of host country officers.
Canada and the U.S. have a long history of sharing information while respecting our separate constitutional and legal frameworks that protect privacy. In June, we announced a joint set of privacy protection principles to consistently guide and inform specific initiatives and arrangements under the Action Plan.
These were developed by Public Safety Canada, the Department of Justice Canada, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice, and were inspired by similar international standards and guidelines on privacy, such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data.
The joint principles represent an important step forward by creating a framework of common rules for the cross-border sharing of personal information. They include reference to maintaining all reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of information; proper security safeguards for information; the relevance and necessity in the collection of personal information; redress before existing national authorities where a person believes that his or her privacy has been infringed; and effective oversight in the form of a public supervisory authority.
Editor: How will the Plan be implemented?
Prato: The Action Plan contains a wide array of detailed initiatives that will require careful management in the implementation phase.
Early on in the process for developing the Action Plan, Canada and the United States established a Beyond the Border Working Group composed of representatives from the appropriate departments and offices of our respective federal governments. The working group conducted a public consultation to inform the development of the joint Action Plan. This consultation concluded last year. The working group will report on implementation to leaders, annually.
Consequently, Canada and the U.S. have created an Executive Steering Committee led by senior officials to guide and ensure follow-up on this package of agreed-upon items. The Committee met for the first time in June.
The Steering Committee will generate an annual, joint, public "Beyond the Border Implementation Report," which will be submitted to the Prime Minister and the President. The initial report will be released by December 31, 2012.
As the Action Plan is implemented, both governments will continue to consult with the full range of stakeholders. Sustained efforts will be needed to fully implement the plan.
Editor: How will the Plan affect corporations doing business in both Canada and the U.S.?
Prato: The Action Plan will yield lasting benefits to travellers, traders, manufacturers – in fact everybody whose legitimate business or pleasure takes them across the border. Today, hundreds of companies and entire industries depend on integrated cross-border supply chains and production processes, which can see products cross the border several times as they are being assembled.
To date, we have held cross-border business traveller consultations. The Action Plan will enhance the benefits of programs that help trusted traders and travellers move efficiently across the border and will introduce new measures to facilitate movement and trade across the border, while reducing the administrative burden for business and investing in improvements to our shared border infrastructure and technology.
Specifically, we envision that small-value courier shipments would need significantly less paperwork. Along those lines, shippers would benefit from an electronic single-window service from both governments. Truckers would have access to real-time information on border delays, allowing them to plan accordingly. And more small- and medium-sized businesses will have access to apply for trusted trader status.
Editor: We understand that the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) will soon release a report on business and security practices at Canada's ports. Can you please give our readers a preview of the report’s findings and recommendations?
Prato: We have received the FMC report and are carefully reviewing it, but are pleased to see that the report concludes that Canada is competing fairly for its share of international cargo. The report validates the position by stating that “carriers shipping cargo through Canadian and Mexican ports violate no U.S. law, treaty, agreement, or FMC regulation.”
Canadian business practices are open, fair and competitive. We are confident that U.S. decision-makers will continue to recognize that open trade increases North American competitiveness, which in turn benefits workers and consumers on both sides of the border.
The Government of Canada submitted evidence in response to the original inquiry, showing clearly that the integrated North American transportation and trade system is a tremendous benefit to both countries. And it’s important to note that the vast majority of American stakeholder submissions to the Commission also recognized the importance of a free and competitive North American market to support shipping choices.
Editor: Concurrent with the Plan’s unveiling, Prime Minister Harper and President Obama announced the creation of the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council – the RCC – to facilitate ongoing regulatory cooperation. Please comment broadly about this and other efforts to address global issues and further strengthen Canada-U.S. relations. (Editor’s note: our readers will appreciate extended coverage of the RCC in Consul General Prato’s letter, which also appears in this section.)
Prato: The Regulatory Cooperation Action Plan, which was announced in parallel to the Border Action Plan, lays out clear goals designed to enhance the already integrated economies and supply chains of our two countries. The 29 specific initiatives for greater regulatory alignment are in four key sectors: agriculture and food; health and consumer products; transportation; and the environment.
Each initiative represents an opportunity to resolve existing issues while setting precedent for future solutions – lasting regulatory cooperation mechanisms to ensure ongoing alignment.
Cooperating more will mean lower costs for businesses, better prices and choices for consumers and facilitated trade between our two countries.
Editor: Do you have any closing thoughts for our readers?
Prato: I would just reiterate that Canada and the U.S. enjoy a singular partnership – a complex, multifaceted relationship that relies on the ongoing interchange of our two economies. That trade relationship is greatly enhanced by a collaborative process that seeks to facilitate legitimate trade and tourism while at the same time maintaining the security of our borders. The Beyond the Border Action Plan, along with the Regulatory Cooperation Action Plan, is lifting that collaboration to new heights and, in doing so, creating a new border for a new century. These efforts, spearheaded by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama, represent a grand step forward in Canada-U.S. cooperation as our two countries continue to evolve a partnership – and a very real friendship – that is unique on the global stage.