Border action plan

Getting trade, traffic back on track

THE WINDSOR STAR

Quietly, Canada and the United States are moving toward an agreement that could fix many of the border problems that have developed since 9-11.

An “action plan” to address major issues – including congestion and restrictions on the flow of goods and services and cross-border trade – is being developed by negotiating teams from each country and is expected to be tabled in September.

The initiative stems from a commitment made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama last February to craft a border deal that will cut through the bureaucratic red tape that’s stifling trade and traffic between Canada and the U.S.

Both Harper and Obama are trying to find a compromise that will put safety and trade on an equal footing. The overall goal is to create a continental security perimeter, to better share information, facilitate the free flow of goods and services and make the necessary infrastructure improvements at border crossings.

Last week, the process of fixing the border moved forward in Windsor when the President’s Export Council met with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

The export council has a mandate to double U.S. exports over the next five years, and increasing trade with Canada is one of the key areas to help reach that goal.

Chrysler Canada CEO Reid Bigland and Ford of Canada president David Mondragon pointed out to the export council that border delays are costing both the auto industry and its customers millions of dollars in wasted time and money each year.

“At Ford, we add an hour to every trip to account for delays and inefficiencies at the border and that adds about $200 to the cost of each unit,” said Mondragon. “With 750,000 vehicles built in the U.S. exported to Canada and Canadian companies exporting 1.7 million vehicles to the U.S., it works out to $500 million in costs that add no value to the vehicle or to the consumer.”

That is an extraordinary number, and arguably just a fraction of the economic costs of a poorly functioning border. In fact the auto industry represents about onefifth of the trade that crosses the border each day.

The free flow of goods is also another reason as the CEOs pointed out the American guests – including U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson – that both countries’ economies are being hamstrung while Michigan waits to deal with construction of the new downriver bridge.

“We have heard throughout today’s meetings that the key issues are the physical barriers at the border,” said Stephanie Burns, chairperson of Dow Corning Corporation and a member of Obama’s export council. “The consensus all day has been ‘just get it done.’

“We will take that message back to Washington.” Hopefully, the council will also remind Americans that Canada is the United States’ largest customer and is the No. 1 export market for 34 states.

The bottom line is that both the security perimeter and new downriver crossing will lead to jobs and economic growth on both sides of the border. The issue is to move quickly on both fronts.