U.S., Canada, vow to work together

Published on Wed, Feb 9, 2011 by By Megā€ˆOlson

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A new U.S./Canada agreement highlights greater cooperation across the border as the key to increased security and prosperity for both nations.

“We agreed to a new vision for managing our shared responsibilities —- not just at the border but “beyond the border,”” said U.S. President Barack Obama in a February 4 joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The agreement commits the two nations to a spectrum of cooperative measures, from greater sharing of information between agencies on both sides of the border to developing joint policies, programs and facilities. A Beyond the Border Working Group will work to develop a plan implementing the goals of the recent declaration.

“Just as we must continually work to ensure that inertia and bureaucratic sclerosis do not impair the legitimate flow of people, goods and services across our border, so, too, we must up our game to counter those seeking new ways to harm us,” Harper said.

The declaration comes in the wake of a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found the northern border to be highly porous. “Customs and Border Protection does not have the ability to detect illegal activity across most of the northern border,” the report states. While 1,000 of the 4,000 miles of border were described as meeting Border Patrol standards for “full situational awareness,” because of inaccessibility only 32 of those miles earned the tog of having an “acceptable level of control.”

Rather than more boots on the border, the report recommends the kind of partnerships the new U.S./Canada agreement hopes to foster. The report targets a tangle of overlapping missions and incompatible agreements between agencies as the most effective place to improve security on the northern border.

Reviving the concept of “perimeter security,” which was seen as an unfeasible approach to U.S. security needs by previous administrations, the new agreement sets a goal of common standards for customs processing of goods, and collecting and sharing information about travelers.

For example, the agreement points to using information about who has entered Canada to give U.S. agencies information about who has left the United States. Such an entry/exit system, mandated by Congress in 1996 and again in 2002 and partially implemented as US-VISIT, has always hit the stumbling block of how to check who has left the country without putting an unacceptable drag on mobility between the two countries.

“It also commits us to finding ways to eliminate regulatory barriers to cross-border trade and travel, because simpler rules lead to lower costs for business and consumers, and ultimately to more jobs,” Harper said.

It could be a while before we see how the new agreement will trickle down to reality for local communities and economies, said Gordon Rogers with the Whatcom Council of Governments.

“The wheels of national government move slowly, and when the rules of two different nations are involved and concerns about sovereignty, it takes a long time,” Rogers said. “It’s a lot of really good ideas, but how will it be implemented? We don’t know.”