Did you know that the NAFTA countries — the United States, Canada and Mexico — produce over $20 trillion of gross domestic product (GDP) or 26 percent of global GDP? That our trade with Canada exceeds $700 billion annually? That when you combine trade with Mexico and investments with both countries, that we surpass well over $1.5 trillion per year?


At this point, you may be asking, "so why is this important to me?" Our trade relationship with Canada has created 8.8 million jobs in the U.S., with significant impact on jobs in New York (680,900 jobs), Texas (459,700), California (1.2 million), which are just a few examples of the local impact of this relationship. Obviously there are those who believe that NAFTA cost jobs, but the real culprit was relentless currency manipulation, primarily by China.

If you are as concerned as I am about where our chaotic world is heading (think Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Africa and Iran), then we might want to focus our attention upon the largest trading block in the world and tap its remaining potential. Secure and robust trade related to the manufacturing of vehicles, clothing, energy and a myriad of other goods and services is worth our collective focus.

We clearly have contentious issues, such as the Keystone XP pipeline, country of origin labeling (COOl) for beef, dairy price supports in Canada, truck traffic with Mexico or southern border immigration issues to overcome. The latter issue has become an obsession that interferes with common sense and detracts from the funding and focus required to elevate border management from "good" to "excellent."

Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) strengthen or weaken our trading block? Will those in agreement direct attention and dollars from the continued growth of North American trade?

On March 19, 2015, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney signed a preclearance agreement furthering the concepts of secure but fluid trade contained in the "Beyond the Border Agreement" of December 2011. This new agreement focuses on land, rail, sea and air transport and provides a legal framework to push ahead with pre-clearance operations in the United States and Canada. Once appropriate legislation is enacted, this agreement will facilitate co-location of facilities for Customs and Border Patrol with the Canadian Borders Services Agency. In my region, Massena, N.Y. could host both border agencies within a single facility, benefiting travelers, trucks and the Mohawk community. Such co-location would enhance utilization of technology with one country manning at multiple ports, permit pre-clearance for rail passengers in Montreal — as is current practice for eight airports in Canada — and most importantly lead to expedited and secure movement of people. The NEXUS program, which provides pre-screening for qualified travellers at the Port of Champlain and many Canadian airports, should be expanded. The NEXUS card is considered valid identification even when traveling within Canada.

Although the preclearance agreement of March 19, 2015, does not specifically address the movement of cargo, we do have in place the U.S. Customs Trade Partnership against Terrorism, known as C-TPAT, and the Canadian Companion Program, known as Partners in Protection or PIP. Both countries are committed to extending the Free and Secure Trade Program, known as FAST, which is a joint commercial clearance initiative between the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) and Canada's Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). We also have the Canadian Customs Self-Assessment Program, known as CSA, and the American Importers Self-Assessment, or ISA program.

The next step to fully achieving implementation is the reintroduction and passage of the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2014, which provides the legal authority necessary for the inspection, arming and arrest capability for CBSA Officers in the U.S., and a basis to take advantage of similar legislation in Canada by our CPB officers. Equally important is the defeat of an amendment to the Secure Our Borders First Act, which demonstrates a lack of understanding by Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoDemocrats release bilingual ads on police reform bill Lawmakers introduce legislation to establish national cybersecurity director Progressives riding high as votes tabulated in NY, Kentucky MORE (R-N.Y.) of how the northern border actually functions and will serve no useful purpose as we strive to create a greater flow of secure trade.

Owens represented New York's North Country from 2009 until retiring from the House in 2015. He is now a senior strategic adviser in the Washington office of McKenna, Long and Aldridge and a partner in the Plattsburgh, N.Y. firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher & Trombley, PLLC.