U.S., Canada strike deal to speed border checks

Melissa Nann Burke, Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Travel by roadway, rail and water between Michigan and Canada could become easier under a deal signed Monday by U.S. and Canadian officials.

The impact on crossings in the Great Lakes state is likely years away, though the effects could be felt sooner in other states if the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament approve it.

The proposed change could mean shifting some American customs inspections to the Canadian sides of the border crossings at Detroit and Port Huron, and allowing U.S. customs agents to carry weapons while stationed inside the Canadian border.

The deal — years in the making as part of the Beyond the Border Initiative — sets out a legal framework allowing law enforcement agents into each other’s countries to conduct customs, immigration and agricultural inspections inside the border. It is a process already in operation at eight Canadian airports, including Toronto.

“This agreement will help facilitate the legitimate trade and travel that keeps our economy thriving as we maintain utmost vigilance to the security of our borders,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said. “We remain committed to our deep partnership with Canada, a true ally, neighbor and friend of the United States.”

A new process for advance government screening of business shipments and individuals could relieve congestion and shave off time while traveling between the two countries, officials say.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney said the “historic” agreement builds on decades of successful pre-clearance operations in Canadian airports. About 4.5 million passengers traveling through Toronto airport now go through the pre-clearance process before traveling to the United States, Blaney said.

The administration of Gov. Rick Snyder welcomed the development with Michigan’s largest trading partner.

“It is extremely helpful for goods to move quickly across the border in a way that still protects residents in both countries,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Monday, but noted the administration still needs to review the agreement.

The crossing between Detroit and Windsor is the busiest along the U.S.-Canada border, carrying more than 20 percent of all merchandise trade between the nations through the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

Detroit is also a popular crossing for travelers, last year ranking the third-busiest U.S.-Canada crossing for passenger vehicles with more than 4 million, behind Niagara Falls, New York, and Blaine, Washington, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Port Huron was the fourth-busiest crossing with more than 1.9 million passenger vehicles in 2014.

The agreement could cut valuable seconds and even minutes off getting across the border.

“It means the same number of officers at the border can process more trucks, and those officers can spend more time on those trucks who do require more attention,” said Douglas George, the Canadian consul general in Detroit. “Both our countries are very interested in ensuring there’s still a very high level of security.”

Maryscott Greenwood, an adviser to the Canadian American Business Council, said she expects arrangements for the Detroit-Windsor crossing would move quickly after the agreement receives legislative approval because of how busy and important it is.

“We’ve talked about pre-clearance at Detroit-Windsor for years because of how congested it is on the Detroit side, and how relatively less congested it is on the Windsor side,” Greenwood said.

“There’s always a complicated dance that you do in Detroit-Windsor with the various stakeholders, so that will remain to be seen,” she added, referring to the private ownership of the Ambassador Bridge.

The re-clearance operations would require approval by both Canada and the United States. Johnson said there will be “some negotiation” that goes into each border-crossing site, and “this agreement even spells that out.” The deal will be implemented at select sites “where it makes sense,” he said.

The trucking industry applauded the agreement as a step toward easing costs and increasing predictability at the border, although David Bradley, president and CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, doesn’t see Detroit-Windsor as a top candidate for a pre-clearance site.

Buffalo-Fort Erie is a more likely site, in part because there’s no space for a modern customs plaza on the Buffalo side, and officials want to relocate inspections to the Fort Erie side, said Bradley, whose group represents more than 4,500 Canadian trucking companies.

“In Detroit-Windsor, you really don’t have that same sort of issue, and you certainly won’t with the new bridge,” Bradley said. “They’ll have a modern customs facility on both sides and the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t have the same land constraints that you have in Fort Erie and Buffalo.”

Last month, officials said Canada would pay to build a U.S. customs plaza on a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor while the U.S. finances its operations. The $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing span over the Detroit River is to be built two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge by 2020.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, supports the new agreement but called on the Obama administration to finish the long-delayed project to expand the customs plaza and ease congestion at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, estimated at $165 million.

“In the interim, it should employ every means possible to facilitate the flow of commerce and trade with one of our greatest neighbors and allies, Canada, including using this new authority to ease congestion, starting with the Blue Water Bridge,” said Miller, who chairs of the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, also welcomed the agreement.

“Thousands of jobs in southeast Michigan depend on our trade and travel partnership with Canada,” Peters said Monday. “Today’s announcement will strengthen that relationship and bring new economic opportunities to both countries.”

How Michigan compares

Two Michigan ports lead the nation when ranked by the total value of goods traded with Canada.

1. Detroit, $133 billion

2. Port Huron, $86.1 billion

3. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y., $85.1 billion

4. Pembina, N.D., $27.9 billion

5. Champlain-Rouses Point, N.Y., $23.2 billion

Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Study: 39 percent of Canadian businesses rely on trade with the U.S.

Study finds Canadian businesses more reliant on U.S. trade

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — A study of Canadian businesses done for Bank of Montreal suggests there’s increased confidence in the U.S. economy that will translate into greater reliance on trade with this country’s biggest market and closest neighbor.An annual survey, conducted by Pollara for BMO, found 39 per cent of the respondents indicated they were reliant on trade with the United States — up eight percentage points from last year.Reliance on trade with Asia was a distant second at 16 per cent, followed by Europe at 13 per cent and Mexico at eight per cent.The study was based on a statistically small sample — 500 business owners, contacted by telephone between Aug. 13 and Sept. 5The bank said the survey suggests Canada’s economic reliance on the United States is returning to historical norms as the North American economy improves.

Watchdog group: Moroun company spent $3.4M this year on TV ads fighting new Detroit bridge

Mlive.com

By Jonathon Oosting

The private Ambassador Bridge company continues to spend large sums on televison ads designed to spur opposition to a new public crossing that also would connect Detroit and Windsor, according to a report released today by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The nonpartisan watchdog group says the Detroit International Bridge Company, owned by billionaire Matty Moroun, spent more than $3.4 million to air anti-government bridge commercials across the state through the first six months of the year.

Television records reviewed by the Lansing-based group indicate that the DIBC, which spent a total of $6 million on similar ads last year, plans to continue the campaign in the lead up to the November primary, which is likely to include a ballot referendum backed by the company.

“They’re spending a lot of money to try to steer public policy in a direction that suits them,” said MCFN executive director Rich Robinson. “They had some success legislatively, and it remains to be seen how this whole thing will end up. This is how public policy works right now — by large-scale spending.”

In comparison, the MCFN report indicates that a group calling itself the Fund for Michigan Jobs, whose address of record is with the Dykema law firm in Lansing, has spent $271,380 on pro-bridge ads so far this year.

Like his predecessor, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is promoting the economic potential of the planned New International Crossing, which would connect Detroit and Windsor several miles south of the Moroun-owned Ambassador Bridge.

Enabling legislation stalled in the state Senate last year, prompting Snyder to bypass the state legislature in favor of an interlocal agreement with Canada, which he announced last month.

In addition to running ads, Moroun’s bridge company is funding a petition drive that would amend Michigan’s constitution to require a public vote before the state can build any new international crossing.

Snyder has said the interlocal agreement with Canada is a contract that cannot be undone, suggesting the ballot proposal simply would make it difficult to do future projects.

Recent anti-bridge ads running across the state include a disclaimer indicated that they were paid for by The People Should Decide ballot committee. But Robinson, who reviewed public records of television stations, said those ads actually were paid for by the bridge company.

Mickey Blashfield, director of government affairs for the bridge company and a spokesman for the ballot committee, confirmed that fact and noted that the in-kind spending will be included in future campaign finance reports, as required by law.

“It’s something that we’re very, very aware of,” he said, noting that the ads are intended to “bring facts to the public that have been ignored or pushed aside by proponents of the government bridge.”

NITC advocates have criticized the ads for apparent inaccuracies, including the oft-repeated claim the government-owned bridge could end up costing Michigan taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Canada has agreed to cover Michigan’s upfront project costs (which it will recoup via future toll revenues), and the agreement contains language specifying that “Michigan Parties are not obligated to pay for any” associated costs.

“The fact that the agreement includes an aspirational statement does not mean it will not have a real economic consequence to Michigan taxpayers,” Blashfield said.

Snyder will trump Matty Moroun’s money

Snyder will trump Matty Moroun’s money

Lansing State Journal

Written by
Tom Watkins

Manuel “Matty” Moroun, the billionaire holding a monopoly on the existing Detroit to Windsor bridge crossing, is stealing Michigan jobs.

How? By continuing to try to poke a stick in the spokes of Gov. Rick Snyder’s efforts to build the New International Trade Crossing.

Michigan should be building a second bridge and putting people to work with a public-private new International Trade Crossing. It would benefit our economic future and makes all the sense in the world.

No, I do not mean the economic future of the Moroun family, owners of the existing Ambassador Bridge. I mean our collective future.

Canada is our largest trading partner. International trade creates thousands of jobs in Michigan and countless more across the United States.

Snyder has built the case to build another international bridge crossing — we want it in Michigan, not some other state.

There are three lessons to be learned by watching this ongoing battle between Moroun and common sense:

• Money is the mother’s milk of politics and Moroun and his family enterprise, the Detroit International Bridge Co., are spending it freely to maintain and expand his money-making bridge monopoly.

• Money buys votes in the political process. Moroun has been spreading the “mother’s milk” of politics around town for years. Let’s call it what it is: Matty Moroun’s Money (“3-M”) vs. the public good.

• There is no law to protect the public’s “truth in advertising” when it comes to political ads. The veracity, truth and accuracy of the anti-bridge campaign by the Moroun family have been questioned by many, including the Michigan Truth Squad (michigantruthaquad.com).

The ads are more of a disinformation campaign.

Rather than shedding light on the debate, Maroun “invested” millions in TV media to deceive the public.

Now the “3-M” is attempting to gather signatures to put the question of building the bridge before the voters.

A new bridge has deep support from business, labor, Snyder and all living former governors, Republican and Democrat alike.

Editorial: New bridge promises a strong economic future

The Daily Tribune

The long-stalled second bridge over the Detroit River looks as if it’s finally headed for construction thanks to a bold plan assembled by the U.S. and Canadian governments, as well as the Ontario provincial government and the state of Michigan.

The plan is clearly a bold stroke for Gov. Rick Snyder, who decided to maneuver around the obstructionists in his own Republican Party and go forward with plans for the Detroit River Crossing Bridge.

As it stands, the new bridge will be constructed without using Michigan taxpayers’ money through some clever financial engineering designed by the municipal, provincial and federal governments in Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper described the $2.1 billion bridge as “the single most important” international infrastructure project he will undertake as prime minister. He said it will also be one of Canada’s best investments.

The Canadians have long been advocates of a second bridge over the Detroit River. In a nice bit of historical irony, the deal for the new crossing tying the U.S. and Canada was signed only two days before the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, in which the U.S.-Canadian border along the Detroit River was a major focal point and battleground.

The Canadians, according to financial plans, have agreed to pay fo Michigan’s half of the bridge through tolls collected on the Canadian side. Canada’s government would also finance the purchase of land in Canada and Michigan, as well as the cost of building roadways to connect the bridge to Interstate 75 in Detroit.

Advocacy e by the U.S. auto industry, Detroit Chamber of Commerce and Oakland County’s L. Brooks Patterson has helped in setting the plans for the second bridge firmly in place.

Ultimately, however, construction of the bridge isn’t about traffic levels but about the future of southeast Michigan and Southwestern Ontario.

The bridge will certainly generate some construction jobs and short-term economic benefits. It also says to the world that the Detroit metropolitan area and the state of Michigan are preparing for a bright economic future over the long haul.

Span called vital trade artery

Auto industry moves tons of parts through crucial link

TOLEDO BLADE STAFF

DETROIT – The Ambassador Bridge is a vital artery for trucks, and that means it’s a vital artery for trade, and an especially crucial link to the automotive industry.

“Detroit is the busiest crossing with the entire country of Canada, and a lot of the trade that goes through there are automotive parts,” said Kristin Dziczek, who is the director of the labor and industry group at the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit industry think tank based in Ann Arbor.

“There are parts that cross the border two or three times for processing,” she said late Wednesday. “The companies that operate here operate there.

“We’re very intricately linked to our neighbor … ,” she said, referring to Windsor, Ont., which is across the river from downtown Detroit. “The economies are very linked, and the automotive industry is extremely linked. One very busy crossing handles the bulk of the automotive trade.”

At a conference in Toledo last year, Roy Norton, the consul general of Canada in Detroit, said that building a second Detroit River crossing is Canada’s top national infrastructure priority because of the corridor’s importance to U.S.-Canada trade.

Ohio sells more to Canada than the next 14 countries combined, reported the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, which sponsored the conference at the University of Toledo’s Dana Conference Center.

Mr. Norton said that 8 million U.S. jobs depend on the bridge.

“It’s not just a Michigan-Ontario issue,” he told the gathering.

Mr. Norton, whose region includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky, urged transportation interests throughout the region to support a new river crossing — as the TMACOG board had done.

Charles “Shorty” Whittington, a past chairman of the American Trucking Associations, also spoke of the crippling blow to trade if infrastructure failed — say, if cracks appeared in the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge and the crossing had to close.

In so doing, though, Mr. Whittington repeated an oft-cited statistic: Those trucks traveling back and forth across the longtime Detroit River crossing carry about a quarter of all trade between the United States and Canada.

Support has been building for a second river crossing.

The UAW is on record in supporting a new border crossing from Windsor to the southwest Detroit neighborhood of Delray, and in December the Ohio Senate unanimously approved a resolution that supports construction of a new international trade crossing with Canada.

The resolution cited Canada as Ohio’s top export market and estimated that 301,100 jobs in Ohio are supported by United States-Canada trade.

Mr. Norton, in an Oct. 16, 2011, column on The Blade’s Pages of Opinion, wrote that almost 20,000 of those jobs are in Lucas, Wood, and Hancock counties.

“Exports from Ohio to Canada increased [in 2010] by more than 20 percent over 2009,” Mr. Norton wrote. “As it has for many years, Ohio continues to enjoy a significant trade surplus with Canada. Modern border infrastructure linking the Midwest to Canada is essential to moving existing and future trade.

“The New International Trade Crossing — a six-lane, state-of-the-art bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario — and other infrastructure enhancements will strengthen Toledo’s efforts to become a transportation and logistics gateway.”

In a comment to Stateline, a news service of the Pew Center on the States, Mr. Norton said, “By value and volume, it is the most important border crossing anywhere in the world. And it’s 83 years old.

“We think that, prudently, governments should provision for the future to ensure that there will be capacity,” Mr. Norton said.

The Detroit-Windsor border crossing is the busiest in North America, with trade valued at $500 million passing daily across the Ambassador Bridge.

Business support for a new crossing appears to have increased in recent months, according to a survey conducted by the Lansing firm EPIC-MRA and commissioned by Crain’s Detroit Business and a Detroit law firm.

The survey of business owners and managers released last month showed that 60 percent favored Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan for a new crossing, while 28 opposed the plan.

The governor’s plan has had the corporate support of Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and Kellogg.

“As we’re on a rebound here, the automotive [companies] are stretching their capacity and are getting to the point where they’re stretching the capacity of that crossing,” said Ms. Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research.

Canadian envoy confident of bridge

By Timothy McNulty, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Canadian government is confident a delayed bridge connection between Detroit and Canada that is vital for trade will be approved next year, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

In the leadup to last month’s presidential primary in Michigan, Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney refused to take a stand on the proposed $2 billion span, which is supported by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, the Canadian government and a host of labor and industry officials in both countries. It is hoped to be an alternative to the traffic-choked, 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which is the busiest border crossing in North America.

“We have decided in Canada and in Michigan to do our due diligence with the federal agencies that are responsible, but get a plan, a proposal finished that we can both support. And then we will ask the president, whoever that is, to approve it as an international crossing,” said Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., in an interview in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Mr. Doer, a former premier of Manitoba, spoke to the World Affairs Council on international security, energy independence and economic cooperation between the U.S. and Canada.

“Whether it is President Obama or candidate Romney, the governor of Michigan prefers to get an agreement with the government of Canada, which we’re working on. If we get an agreement, we’ll announce it.”

Bridge plans have moved forward in the past few months, he said, despite a setback in the Michigan legislature last fall.

“I think it’s going to get done. I wouldn’t have said that a year ago,” Mr. Doer said before adding, “We haven’t gotten it done. We don’t put our hands in the air until the puck’s in the net in Canada.”

Plans for the new span have been bitterly opposed by the private owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Michigan billionaire Manuel Moroun.

Mr. Moroun’s company has argued that the notorious traffic backups on the bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, are due to inadequate customs staffing on both sides. He believes building a new publicly financed span would be a bureaucratic boondoggle. Conservative groups such as the tea party-aligned Americans for Prosperity also have questioned the project.

Mr. Moroun sued in 2010 to block the new bridge. He was briefly jailed in January for contempt of court in a dispute with the Michigan Department of Transportation related to a long-delayed construction project on the old bridge.

The Canadian government has pledged a $550 million loan to cash-strapped Michigan to cover its portion of construction costs for the New International Trade Crossing bridge, which was on track for state approval before being blocked in the GOP-controlled state senate in October.

Mr. Moroun’s lobbying might in Lansing and a series of negative ads on the bridge proposal were key in the stoppage. If Mr. Romney, a suburban Detroit native, had announced his support for the proposal it might have paved the way for Senate approval this election year, but he instead said it was a matter for state leaders to decide.

Mr. Doer said he met with Mr. Snyder last month during the National Governors Association meetings in Washington, D.C., to go over cross-border business agreements on bridge management, tolls and other legal language.

“We think whoever’s president will find it in the U.S. economic interest to proceed,” Mr. Doer said. “This is needed, in terms of merit, in two-way trade. To us it’s a sensible proposal, to the United States it’s a sensible proposal.”