Shared vision deal with Canada two years old but no action yet
US president Barack Obama and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.
WASHINGTON — The Canada-US Beyond the Border initiatives haven’t exactly been a top priority for the White House since Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama announced a “shared vision” for a border deal two years ago.
Obama had an election to win in 2012, and Capitol Hill has been consumed with efforts to reduce the country’s mammoth national debt, prompting stakeholders on both sides of the border to gripe that progress on Beyond the Border’s so-called action plan has, so far, lacked action.
“There’s a kind of general feeling of: ‘OK, we’re doing all right, but we’d like more please, and can we move faster?”’ Chris Sands, an expert on Canada-US relations and North American economic integration, said in a recent interview.
Officials are still working on initiatives from the first year of the action plan while stakeholders had hoped to be well into a second-year agenda by now, said Sands, a self-described “fly on the wall” in some of the ongoing negotiations.
“Part of it is budgetary issues,” he said.
“The Obama administration knows that this is supposed to happen and they know there are pilot projects, but there’s no money. How do you do all this with sequestration looming?”
Sequestration – a massive package of sweeping, automatic spending cuts to an array of US federal departments and agencies – is set to kick in on March 1.
The mandated measures would amount to US$1.2 trillion in cuts by 2021. If Congress fails to act, Americans will be facing the type of austerity measures that won’t bode well for some of the costlier cross-border projects envisioned by Beyond the Border, aimed at intelligence-sharing, easing and streamlining cross-border trade and harmonizing regulations.
Birgit Matthiessen, the Washington-based senior adviser for the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, is among those expressing frustration at the pace of the action plan.
“We’re in the second year of the two-year action plan and the CME has made it quite clear to both Washington and Ottawa that we’re hoping the second year is a lot more ambitious than the first,” she said.
The long-existing problems plaguing land border crossings have received particularly short shrift, Matthiessen says.
“They’ve announced bold initiatives at sea ports and for air cargo, and that’s great, those are good, we applaud them,” she said.
“But for our members, it’s the land border that’s crucial. Customs officials on both sides of the border continue to stop and hinder legitimate business travellers coming across the borders on both sides. The rules are 20 years old; they’re out of date, they’re archaic. We need clear, updated guidelines to reflect the modern-day business world.”
There have nonetheless been some small but significant achievements, including a recent announcement that the US and Canada had increased and matched the value thresholds for “expedited customs clearance” to $2,500 for both countries. The previous threshold for goods for was $1,600.
Courier UPS applauded the news.
“Canadian and US businesses are the true beneficiaries of the Beyond the Border Action Plan and this change,” Mike Tierney, president of UPS Canada, said in a statement.
“Each day, more than $1 billion worth of goods crosses our common border, bringing the annual value of traded goods to more than $580 billion. Yet, every year $16 billion in trade activity has been lost due to border delays. This change will allow for swifter movement of goods for importers and exporters of all sizes.”