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Lawmakers look to keep border issues from impacting vital U.S.-Canada business relationship

by Ilene Grossman ~ MLC Annual Meeting Edition 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
Canada is the largest trading partner of every state in the Midwest. It is a close economic relationship that relies on an open border to operate efficiently and securely. (In 2010, the value of cross-border trade between Canada and the U.S. was $1.8 billion each day, according to federal data, and more than 11 million total jobs were dependent on this bilateral relationship.)

At the July meeting of the MLC Midwest-Canada Relations Committee, lawmakers from both countries discussed the importance of the trade partnership and, specifically, how to ensure that the border does not get in the way of business.

That is also a major topic of conversation between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper as they attempt to implement a new border initiative.

The initiative, announced earlier this year as the Declaration on a Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness, has four major components:

• Address security threats before they reach North America through improved intelligence- and information-sharing;

• Facilitate trade and economic growth by more efficiently and effectively managing the flow of trade and traffic between the U.S. and Canada;

• Expand upon existing cross-border law enforcement efforts to jointly identify and prevent people and organizations from committing crimes; and

• Develop a bilateral approach to making border-related improvements to infrastructure and cyber-security.

John Ibbitson, Ottawa bureau chief for the Globe and Mail newspaper, told the Midwestern Legislative Conference committee that this new border initiative “began out of a loss of trust between the U.S. and Canada,” including concerns that it was too easy for terrorists or weapons to cross the border.

The declaration is now being called the “Beyond the Border Initiative,” a reflection of the countries’ new focus on continental security: working cooperatively to protect the perimeter of the continent.

There is resistance to this approach on both sides of the border — with concerns raised about privacy and national sovereignty. Under any final agreement, both countries are likely to share more information about people entering each country from overseas, with biometric and other data more readily available to U.S. officials.

“Canada has to give up some autonomy [over information and security] in return for a more open border,” Ibbitson said.

At the July meeting, Bernard Swiecki, director of market analysis at the Center for Automotive Research, gave examples of how current inefficiencies at the border and trade regulations add costs to consumers and burdens to U.S. and Canadian businesses.

For instance, one shipment of 4,000 automobiles from Korea to the United States gets a single inspection at a U.S. port. In contrast, the same number of cars built in Canada and the U.S. can go through 28,000 customs transactions as parts and partly assembled vehicles criss-cross the border. The result, Swiecki said, is an added cost of $800 for every car built in the two countries.

The committee sponsored a resolution (later adopted by the full MLC) endorsing the Beyond the Border Initiative. Committee members are urging federal officials to speed up border processing and to pursue ambitious goals through the ongoing, bilateral discussions.