Strengthening cross-border trade with Canada

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Given the contributions of the Canada-U.S. partnership to jobs and prosperity, it stands to reason that we should do everything in our power to improve the efficiency of cross-border trade. By reducing the cost and complexity of transacting business across our common frontier, we enhance the ability of U.S. and Canadian companies to compete and win in global markets.

This lesson has not been lost on President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. During a meeting at the White House in December 2011, they announced the “Beyond the Border Action Plan,” a package of joint security programs and border management initiatives aimed at streamlining procedures for customs processing, eliminating unnecessary red tape, and facilitating the free flow of legitimate goods and travelers.

Recently, the Obama Administration and the Canadian government issued a report card on the progress they have made toward reducing the barriers that hamper bilateral commerce. The results are encouraging, but a lot more needs to be done to transform bottlenecks at the border into gateways for the legitimate flow of people and goods.

Last October, for example, the United States and Canada announced a pilot project at the Port of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to eliminate duplicate security checks of marine cargo that enters Canada but is destined for the United States by rail. Under the new approach, cargo is screened only once, at its initial port of arrival, after which it is free to move across the U.S.-Canada border without the need for further inspections – embracing the principle of “screened once, accepted twice.”

Over the past year, our two countries have discussed or put into effect a range of similar measures to advance security and economic competitiveness. Among them: a pilot project to do away with re-inspections of Canadian shipments of fresh meat; a plan to reduce customs wait times by pre-clearing trucks before they reach the physical border; and a pilot project for joint inspections of non-U.S. and non-Canadian flagged vessels entering the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway.

Another key part of promoting economic growth and jobs in our two countries is a commitment to stronger regulatory cooperation where it makes sense. Right now even small differences sometimes undercut our competitiveness and raise prices for consumers. The Regulatory Cooperation Council set up a year ago is reviewing regulatory differences in designated sectors. As the Council makes progress, this initiative should be expanded. We can achieve greater regulatory cooperation between Canada and the U.S. without compromising high standards of health and safety.

All of these measures are necessary and long overdue. The challenge now is to move beyond pilot projects, feasibility studies, and regulatory reviews to fuller implementation – transforming words and good intentions into more concrete and longer-term action. We encourage our leaders to keep pressing their officials for tangible results. For example, set some early deadlines by which parts produced in one country should be able to travel without interruption to assembly plants in the partner nation.

We also recommend a continuing focus by all levels of government on our energy and transportation infrastructure. With the election season over, it is time to move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline and a new bridge over the Detroit River between Michigan and Ontario – the busiest commercial crossing in the world. These are big, strategically important projects that will generate large number of jobs and underpin our economic competitiveness.

Ongoing effort and constant attention by governments, business and labor have made the Canada-U.S. partnership an enormous success, enhancing our global competitiveness. Let’s keep it that way.

Engler is president of the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with more than $7.3 trillion in annual revenues and nearly 16 million employees. Manley is president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, representing the CEOs of 150 leading Canadian companies.