Larsenspeaks out on border rules

Published on Thu, Mar 23, 2006 by ara Nelson

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Larsen speaks out on border rules

By Tara Nelson

?The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and the 2010 Winter Olympics were the subjects of much discussion at an International Mobility and Trade Corridor (IMTC) annual meeting this week at the Hotel Bellwether in Bellingham.

Representatives from IMTC, a coalition of business and government entities from Canada and the U.S. led by the Whatcom Council of Governments, met U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA) and other government officials to discuss projects and plans aimed at improving cross-border commerce and infrastructure.

Larsen spoke on the behalf of Washington state businesses with regard to the 2010 Winter Olympics and the WHTI, a federal initiative that will require all persons to carry a passport when crossing the U.S.-Canadian border, as well as the need to balance domestic safety and economic issues. Many business owners are worried the initiative will harm cross border commerce – especially in small, border towns such as Blaine, Lynden and Sumas.

“Our borders are about security, but they are also about commerce,” Larsen said. “Up to $1.2 billion per day in trade crosses the border between the U.S. and Canada. The Canadian travelers here in the register $4.6 million annual trips to the U.S. more than $26 billion in travel and services in 2003 alone. So there are a lot of big numbers and a lot of jobs related to cross-border traffic.”

Larsen also described an increased need for consistency at the U.S.-Canada border crossings and a need for more time for sea and air travel services to adapt.

“Border certainty is a wild card with regard to Washington state businesses, tourism, and if we are to take full advantage of the 2010 Winter Olympics,” he said. “When it comes to security and taking advantage of the Winter Olympics, wild cards are not a good thing. What we need to work toward is certainty at our borders, certainty that when you arrive at our borders, you’ll be able to cross, certainty that, when you come back, you’ll be able to get back in, and certainty that the time you spend at the border is as brief as possible. The advent of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative brings a lot of uncertainty.

“We also think of the land border crossing but this also applies to airports of entry as well as sea ports of entry,” he said. “We need to push for a favorable rule for northwest sea lines. January 1, 2007, is too short of a timeline and doesn’t allow for ferry services to come up with a cross-border solution.”

Larsen said a variety of estimates of income loss have predicted huge economic impacts as a result of the initiative.

The conference board of Canada, for example, estimates 3.5 million fewer border crossing from Canada into the U.S. and an estimated 7 million fewer crossings from the U.S. into Canada, he said.
“So between the two countries, it may cost more than 2.5 billion in loss,” he said.

Larsen, who is the co-chair of business and development trade subcommittee of the governor’s task force on the 2010 Winter Olympics, said the committee recently finished an economic impact study that examines security, trade, transportation, tourism and labor in relation to the Olympics.

“This will set the foundation for the continued work for the task force,” he said. The study should be released in three to four weeks, he said.

Other studies dealing with cross-border economic issues are currently being conducted by the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University. Those studies should be completed by April. For more information, visit www.ac.wwu.edu/~bpri.