Businesses are clamouring for harmonized rules to fix the congested Canada-U.S. border, saying trade is suffering as layers of security checks and paperwork crimp economic growth.
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama prepare to meet Friday to discuss sweeping changes to border regulations, Canadian companies are welcoming the prospect of new measures to reduce trade bottlenecks.
"We need to restore principles of risk management at the border instead of checking everything and everyone all the time," said David Bradley, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents 4,500 trucking firms across the country.
Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama will "start a process rather than announce immediate changes, but any time we have a fresh look at the border, we have to welcome it. The proof will be in the pudding," he said.
Mr. Bradley said a variety of security programs overlap when they should be harmonized, noting the Canada-U.S. border has "thickened" for truckers in recent years as they seek to comply with an array of rules introduced by the U.S. and Canadian governments.
He cautioned that while harmonization is an admirable goal, what's good for the United States won't necessarily be good for Canada, so there isn't an easy fix to border gridlock.
Two key business lobby groups, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association, have formed a coalition with their U.S. counterpart organizations to offer advice to governments on ways to make the border more efficient while maintaining security.
"We all understand that security trumps all, but we also need an ongoing basis for trade and commerce under that umbrella," said Mark Nantais, vehicle manufacturers association president.
One critical issue that has been on the agenda for auto makers and parts companies in Canada for years is the bottleneck at the Windsor-Detroit border crossing, where trucks can be lined up for kilometres waiting to cross and two-way merchandise trade is about $150-billion a year.
Auto makers and parts suppliers have been lobbying for almost a decade for another border crossing to reduce or eliminate the lengthy delays on the Windsor roads leading up to the Ambassador Bridge.
"There needs to be a recognition that these jumbled super-border agencies and programs must work together and make sure no more harm is done," said Birgit Matthiesen, special adviser to the president at the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.
Bernard Poitras, president of Plastique Micron Inc. in Ste-Claire, Que., said the European Union has a free-flowing system when compared with the Canada-U.S. border. His company manufactures plastic containers and bottles for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and personal-care sectors. Micron does about half its business in the United States.
Rob Kee, managing director of Casco Inc. of Etobicoke, Ont., a maker of corn-based sweetener and other food ingredients, said his company has had its share of difficulties with just-in-time deliveries across the border, particularly requirements from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Casco often ships at odd hours – in the middle of the night, for example – to provide just-in-time delivery to customers in the United States. "We welcome any move on the part of the Canadian and U.S. governments to ensure the border is both secure and also allows a smooth flow of commerce," he said.
Canadian National Railway Co. added that a "secure Canada-U.S. border that also allows the unimpeded flow of legitimate commerce has always been a high priority for CN, and we have worked with officials in both countries towards that goal."