As a very active advocate of improvements to the Canada/U.S. border relations and programs, we have made this one of our top issues. So it was no surprise that we were invited to discuss progress with government officials as they released their most recent update on their Beyond the Border initiative.
It was surprising that the Prime Minister himself joined Trade Minister Ed Fast to participate in the discussion. As our Senior Vice President Warren Everson said, “no other Prime Minster in our experience has been willing to dig into the complex details that are so important to ordinary people trying to do business across that border.”
The Beyond the Border initiative was launched in 2011 by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper. Its main focus has been simplifying border processes while maintaining security.
As this week’s meeting, Mr. Harper and Mr. Fast received compliments for the new preclearance agreement and the Nexus program, but also complaints; representatives of various business associations such as trucking, tourism and cruise ships told the ministers that the visa system continues to frustrate businesses large and small. We let the ministers know that special “trusted trader” programs were expensive and complex for small businesses and didn’t always secure the improved service the applicants expected.
So many of our members need to get across that border every day, it’s really one of the key issues in a competitive economy. In Europe, nearly 500 million people trade with very few internal barriers between them. In China, more than a 1.3 billion people trade with no formal barriers between them. These are our rivals. It’s maddening that in North America, 300 million people—the best friends in the world—have serious barriers to overcome in peaceful trade.
The meeting proved that Prime Minister is both aware of these issues and is working actively to improve them. These aren’t sexy issues, but for ordinary business people, they matter hugely. It’s very encouraging we get this kind of attention in the federal government.