Harmonized approach to border security gives ports a larger role.


Canada and the United States enjoy the world’s largest bi-national trading relationship with approximately $1.6 billion worth of goods and upwards of 300,000 people crossing the border daily for business, pleasure or family reasons.

With so much back and forth, both countries realize how essential it is to continued good relations and their national economies to accelerate the legitimate flow of people and products while ensuring public security.

Significant progress has been made since Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama issued a Declaration for a Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness in February 2011. As part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan, Canada and the U.S. have produced a joint inventory of existing intelligence work to establish a common understanding of possible threats.

“Two integrated threat assessments have been done so far – one led by Canada and the other by the U.S.,” says Josée Picard, a Public Safety Canada spokesperson. Steps have also been instituted to ensure the security agencies in both nations collaborate in analyzing threats.


Joint cargo strategy

A key element of the shared vision is a harmonized approach to screening cargo arriving from other countries. The Integrated Cargo Security Strategy (ICSS) operates under a ‘cleared once, accepted twice’ principle. It calls for increased security at the point of arrival, followed by the expedited movement of secure cargo across the Canada-U.S. border. By assessing offshore cargo risks ahead of time and then providing equivalent inspection capabilities at the initial point of a cargo’s arrival in North America, the strategy moves required inspections away from border crossings.

The Port of Montreal has been involved in one of two initial pilot projects taking place in relation to marine cargo. It focuses on cargo destined for delivery to U.S. markets by truck. By having the offshore cargo inspected upon its arrival at the port, truck drivers spend less time at the American border.

Another pilot project targets high-risk cargo destined for the U.S. before it even arrives at the Port of Prince Rupert in British Columbia. Once at the port, the cargo is subject to examination before being loaded onto trains destined for American cities.

Once completed, the projects will be reviewed to determine whether they successfully resulted in a lower number of transhipments and volumes of cargo having to be re-inspected at the border on an annual basis compared to the baseline year of 2011.

Less duplication

Meanwhile, a third project is set for Newark, New Jersey. Canada and the U.S. also continue to work towards harmonizing their inspection requirements and customs data. “Mutually acceptable cargo security processes help save time for businesses and government by significantly reducing the need for re-inspection of cargo that proceeds to cross the Canada-U.S. land border,” Public Safety Canada spokesperson Picard says.

Another key way to keep legitimate cargo flowing is to have trusted partners, such as other ports, screen contents before their departure for North America. Canada and the U.S. have now harmonized their required data and timeline for cargo screened in advance and are expected to begin implementing the same criteria by the end of 2013.


The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is already working with the trade community through initiatives such as the Customs Self-Assessment program to expedite clearance for low-risk goods from CSA-approved importers, carriers and registered drivers. “The CSA program simplifies many of the import border requirements so that low-risk shipments can be processed more quickly and efficiently at the border, saving businesses time and money,” Picard says.

Moving forward, Canada and the U.S. will harmonize these trade-chain security programs as much as possible to share information on individual companies, minimize the duplication of risk-assessment efforts, and reduce the required paperwork and costs for traders, carriers and their employees.

Fee transparency

Both governments are responding to confusion and complaints about the number and cost of border fees. In an effort to make these more transparent and accountable, Canada and the U.S. will soon each publish a list of the fees along with their purpose and legal basis in each country.

The Government of Canada will then issue a request for proposal to develop an economic impact study to determine the effect of border fees on three economic sectors. “The three sectors to be studied will be identified in the request for proposal, which will be publicly posted on,” says Picard. The study is in response to concerns about border fees impeding business and trade competitiveness as compared to other world regions, such as the European Union.

Shore leave reciprocity?

Tom Anderson, Algoma Central Corporation’s Director of Ports and Harbours and Company Security Officer, hopes bilateral negotiations will soon make it simpler for crew members to obtain clearance to go ashore in Canada and the U.S.

“Even with all the current paperwork, crew members are facing restrictions as to when and for how long they can go ashore because of the security restrictions at the port or dock level,” he says. “This is time crew members really need to do banking, shopping and other errands that the rest of us take for granted.”

Anderson would like security clearance reciprocity with the U.S. Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) Card or a similar identification. “If Customs in Canada clears an individual, that should be good enough for the U.S. and vice versa if the same vetting criteria is used,” he says. “We should also be looking at clearing the entire crew of a trusted carrier ahead of time so that the workers aboard don’t face restrictions or delays when a ship arrives in port.”

Emergency preparedness

With upwards of $200 billion in goods moving through Canadian ports annually  and more than half of Canada’s non-American trade delivered by ships, the government is keenly aware of the economic impacts of a partial or full port closure for whatever reason, including a mishap.

To mitigate the effects, Transport Canada has engaged the Canadian Port Authorities and other maritime stakeholders to undertake maritime commerce resilience planning. The planning helps to ensure the marine sector has “the knowledge, tools and pre-event relationships to prepare for, and efficiently and effectively respond to disruptions,” Public Safety Canada spokesperson Picard says. It includes sharing best management practices and establishing contingency plans and committees.

As part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan, Transport Canada and the U.S. Coast Guard are together developing a bi-national framework to swiftly manage maritime traffic following an emergency. The framework calls for having protocols in place for sharing information in the event of a maritime commerce disruption.

Transport Canada and the U.S. Coast Guard have also jointly led a committee with 38 international participants to establish voluntary trade recovery guidelines for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Facilitation Committee. The guidelines are to minimize supply-chain stoppages in the event of wide-scale emergencies or disruptions.