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A critical 'need to win': Canada and the US move forward on mutual border security and preclearance

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2014-03-01

The Canada-US ‘Beyond the Border perimeter strategy’, issued by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in February 2011, wrapped up 2013 with some significant developments along the Canada-US border, thanks to a specific action plan formulated in December 2011.

But the plan still has a long way to go, and according to Jim Phillips, CEO of the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance (Can/Am BTA), this strategy absolutely has to deliver.

“Beyond the border is about teamwork, cooperation and the critical need to win,” Phillips said at the Vancouver Cargo Logistics Conference this January.

“In 2002-security did trump trade but today the US has come to the conclusion that security does not trump trade. Our quality of life, and our economy, are tied in to how we handle our border,” Phillips said.

While Phillips does not necessarily advocate a micromanaging of the border by government, he says that the government working groups tasked with the border “have been functioning without interruption, and they are making tremendous progress. You don’t read a big headline about (data harmonization) but I don’t think they’ve taken their eye off it. But our biggest concern is we’ve got to get preclearance done. If we don’t win it, the costs, fees, and congestion are going to go up. But I think we are close - within 12 months the Beyond the Border achievement will be in hand,” said Phillips.

Can/Am BTA has recommended several pain points be addressed at the border, specifically paradigms around small or rural port inspection that can be done by either Canadian or American border agencies, and around duplicate inspection at shared land borders, with cross-designation capabilities for the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration with those of the Customs and Border Protection, so that in the absence of the DA and FDA the CBP could cover the same duties.

The CBP and CBSA have established a Small Ports Working Group to develop a long-term strategy to more effectively and efficiently manage small ports of entry along the Northern border.

Both US and Canadian border agencies have continued to develop and implement several additional initiatives consistent with the Beyond the Border declaration that “recognize that more than 90% of all non-trusted cargo and more than 98% of trusted cargo is cleared at the point of primary inspection.”

One of those initiatives is the Secure Transit Corridor (STC) technology demonstration being conducted at the Ambassador Bridge by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technplogy Directorate (S&T) in collaboration with CBP, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), and industry partners. The objective of the project is to increase security while facilitating the flow of commerce. Industry partners attach devices at the shipment origin which monitor and report the security status of the shipment through its arrival at the destination. CBP uses the data to inform their characterization of the shipment as “high” or “low” risk so resources are focused on high risk shipments while low risk shipments can be expedited; this facilitates the efficient flow of commerce from trusted agents.

The Can/Am BTA would also like to see direct streamed access to primary customs inspection for the trusted trader tiers, including: ISA/PIC/CSA, FAST, C-TPAT/PIP TIER 2, and C-TPAT/PIP.

There is a lot of work to be done in the area of controlled access to the plazas so that trucks can be cleared efficiently, noted Phillips.

“Seven percent of trucks are FAST. This is not enough critical mass. We have to stream, and better control how trucks arrive into the plaza. What are the factors determining the processing capacity of primary inspection at a land port in terms of number of booths, hours each is operational, and the processing dwell time for each? This is a major element where nothing has been done,” he said.

The CBP, in partnership with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Public Safety Canada, has already concluded a five month pilot test of cargo pre-inspection, and deemed the concept feasible.

The truck cargo pre-inspection pilot began on June 18, 2013 at the Pacific Highway crossing adjacent to Surrey, British Columbia, and included participation from Transport Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the BC Ministry of Transport.

The pilot saw CBP officers pre-inspect approximately 3,500 US-bound commercial trucks.

The Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University was involved in gathering data on the phase 1 pre-inspection pilot at the Blaine border crossing.

Launched in June 2013, this phase was designed as a “proof of concept” to test technologies and operating procedures, the institute noted.

It sought to answer two questions: If a Customs and Border Protection inspection booth were placed on Canadian soil, ‘would the length of an inspection be greater given the need to access networked databases using technologies other than those present in a typical booth?’

And ‘once inspected in Canada, could a truck move nonstop through a downstream CBP facility?’

The Border Policy Research Institute’s field data from the pre-inspection pilot test at Blaine showed that prior to the test, in baseline operations, trucks approached the plaza in a truck lane parallel to and slightly west of BC’s Highway 15. Non-FAST trucks used the east lane leading to a signal which dispersed the trucks within 11 individually signalized staging lanes. FAST trucks, meanwhile, used the west lane, bypassed the dispersal signal, and were staged in lane 12. Trucks were released from the staging plaza by a first-in, first-out scheme, with highest priority given to the FAST trucks. Once released from the plaza, all trucks turned west and made use of any one of three Customs and Border Protection booths.

This same traffic flow was used during the pilot. A new CBP booth was installed within a footprint that occupied two lanes of the staging plaza. This reduced the number of lanes available for standard trucks to nine. The pre-inspection booth was used for primary inspection on Canadian soil of only those trucks using the FAST lane.

A radiation portal monitor and portable orange jersey barriers established a “sterile” path to booth 3 from the new booth. Booth 3 was conceptually repurposed as an exit booth to determine whether trucks successfully inspected in Canada could be allowed to proceed nonstop through the downstream facility. The number of booths available to standard trucks during the pilot was reduced to two.

The University then stationed students at three locations within the plaza, to time the progress of every truck traversing the port via the FAST lane. Baseline data was collected in June 2013, just prior to the pilot launch. Inspection durations were found to be comparable to what had been seen the prior year: 63 seconds per truck, said the institute.

One week after the pilot’s launch, on July 2 and 3, the average duration of primary inspections was increased to 89 seconds. It was also found that 29% of trucks processed at the pre-inspection booth encountered significant delays at booth 3 (the conceptual exit booth). An additional 29 % engaged in stop and go behaviour: halting just long enough to be told to proceed.

After the July 2 and 3 outing, CBP noted that many trucks using lane 12 were non-FAST, “possibly seeking to traverse the port more rapidly by avoiding the staging area.”

For such trucks, CBP was issuing a compliance briefing at the pre-inspection booth and performing the actual inspection at exit booth 3.

On the next outing (July 23/24) a student was placed within the pre-inspection booth to segregate the data pertaining to “valid” trucks from that of the non-FAST trucks. The average inspection duration for the mingled stream has dropped to 62 seconds, while the average for valid trucks was just 50 seconds. Only 9% of trucks encountered significant delay at the designated exit booth. At this point the pilot operations were on par with the baseline conditions.

According to the study conclusions, while CBP can proceed to phase 2 with confidence that the concept of pre-inspection is viable, “stakeholders at Blaine are left with a challenge: how to exclude non-FAST trucks from the FAST lane once the pre-inspection booth is removed, leaving no agent in that lane to ensure compliance?”

Phillips noted that on average, a FAST truck inspection takes 50 seconds, which is ten seconds faster than a non-FAST inspection. He stressed that cash collection should be removed from the border inspection process as well.

“It’s a fact that this takes an extra 45 seconds,” he noted.

FAST lanes have been successful at some border crossings, Phillips noted, and the current Peace Bridge pilot could save some $300 million dollars in terms of early deliverables, he added.

Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, Steven Blaney and US Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, signaled the launch of a one year pre-inspection pilot at the Peace Bridge just as Canadian Shipper went to press in late February.

During the pilot, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will pre-inspect trucks entering the United States on the Canadian side in the hopes of avoiding backups on the bridge due to the size constraints of the customs plaza on the Buffalo side. The project, which creates two new booths on the Canadian side to house CBP officials, is being funded by the Peace Bridge Authority.

After being processed on the Canadian side, trucks that take part in the pilot will proceed across the bridge where it is anticipated they will come to a rolling stop at a CBP “exit” booth. If the process goes smoothly, they will be given a green light signalling they are free to proceed through the customs plaza en route to their destination. A red light instead signals the truck must be brought to a complete stop for further processing.

“The trucking industry has a keen interest in facilitating the shipment of goods across the Canada-US border while maintaining security,” Canadian Trucking Alliance president David Bradley said at the announcement. CTA says the pilot’s measured success will essentially depend on whether the two stops (albeit one being a rolling stop), compared to the current one-stop, will actually speed the flow of trucks across the border and maintain advantages for carriers and drivers operating under the trusted trader program, Free and Secure Trade (FAST).

“Everyone wants the pilot to be a success,” said Bradley. “But if things don’t go as planned, or there are some unintended consequences, it is important that the protocols are in place to take the necessary corrective action on a timely basis and in communication with industry.”

“What isn’t in hand in 12 months isn’t likely to get in hand. We know now what the new parameters are for how we’re going to operate, and common sense must prevail,” noted Phillips.

“In 2015-I’m assuming beyond the border is known, and by 2017, we achieve it. I don’t think it’ll be derailed. But we’re victims of reality. The CBSA has had to take substantial cuts in its budget. We’re getting down to the muscle-if we don’t get small port reallocation, we’ll have less booths manned. As we come out of the recovery, all of a sudden the volume of activity is going to go up, and I don’t have to paint you a big picture of the lines and the backup. There is $ 20-25 billion dollars of cost/productivity loss caused by waiting at the border,” he said.



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