Canada, U.S. to sign deal on security perimeter

Posted by admin on Dec 9th, 2010

Postmedia News December 9, 2010

A landmark deal is at hand between Canada and the United States to form a trade and security perimeter around the continent with an eye to easing the flow of goods and people across the border, the National Post is reporting.  Called the New Border Vision, the pact could be signed as early as January by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama. It is unofficially anticipated that the plan will be on the agenda when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Ottawa on Monday. But officially, the perimeter pact is still below the radar.

“No such announcement is planned,” a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the National Post. “We don’t comment on hearsay or speculation.” Nor would a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa comment on the matter.

But according to people familiar with the plan, The New Border Vision is being billed as a border management system that will include new common consumer product regulations, a pre-clearance agreement for goods crossing the border to expedite waiting times and the use of advanced technology to utilize biometric data for travellers at airports and land crossings, reports say.

The use of the term “perimeter” is also revealing as such a term would not have been used earlier in the decade due to sensitivities about Canadian sovereignty.

Colin Robertson, a senior research fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, told the National Post the agreement is an attempt by the Canadian government to link security to improved access to the U.S. for Canadians.

“‘Perimeter’ is a vital word because back in the Chretien government days we couldn’t use it because we would get caught up in the sovereignty allergy we too often have,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense.”

“It’s big on ideals but maybe not so great on details,” one person familiar with the negotiations told the National Post. “But it does use the word ‘perimeter’ many times. … The question is, will it reduce the compliance burden at the Canada-U. S. border?”

Last March, the U.S. signed a similar agreement with Mexico. It aims to expedite travel and commerce, such as secure transit lanes for pre-cleared rail and truck shipments, as well as passenger pre-clearance for individuals.

Robertson said he anticipates that the deal will be popular with the business community. But another business person was skeptical. “A vision without money,” he said, “is a hallucination.”

Canada and the U.S. have taken some steps to ease border congestion — notably the NEXUS membership card and Free and Secure Trade (FAST) trusted traveller programs as a valid means of identification at the border.

But more serious steps have failed. In 2005, the Security and Prosperity Partnership was signed by former prime minister Paul Martin, ex-U. S. president George W. Bush and former Mexican president Vicente Fox.

The SPP was aimed at reducing the cost of trade and improving the flow of people and information, but became a lightning rod for criticism. It was savaged in the U.S. by CNN anchor Lou Dobbs who argued it was part of a plan to merge the U.S., Canada and Mexico into a North American Union.

By 2009, all three governments had abandoned the SPP, which is “no longer an active initiative,” according to its website.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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