Bilateral border efforts moving too slowly, say both Canada, U.S. stakeholders

OTTAWA – A Canada-U.S. group that’s supposed to be streamlining trade and travel between the world’s two biggest trading partners is instead suffering from a lack of momentum, disregarding new ideas and ignoring those industries most impacted by border barriers, stakeholders say.

No fewer than 28 different organizations and associations are complaining to the U.S. Federal Register about the Regulatory Co-operation Council, established as part of the Beyond the Border initiatives, announced two years ago by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The organizations are all signatories to a recent letter to the register, obtained by The Canadian Press, saying they aren’t being consulted about how to slash red tape at the border, which thickened significantly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Recent discussions by the RCC co-chairs have left many stakeholders concerned that the work being done in the RCC might not actually result in removing barriers,” reads the letter, whose signatories include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

“We believe it is essential that industry be consulted as a true partner in this initiative rather than the recipient of results from already completed activities…. Stakeholder involvement should also include more than regular updates. Stakeholders should be part of a proactive process to find solutions that can ease regulatory burdens.”

The letter also griped about the slow pace and the lack of transparency of the council’s work, saying it’s “unclear whether all the timelines are still on track.”

Beyond the Border was conceived as a way to reduce regulatory burdens on a host of industries, including the agriculture and auto sectors, to integrate inspection systems and to allow travellers to move faster across the border.

While all of the 28 organizations that signed the letter support the council’s efforts, progress on the Beyond the Border goals has been “pretty slow going in some of the key areas,” said Mathew Wilson, vice-president of national policy for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

“If we leave it up to the regulators themselves to try to align regulations where they think they can, we’re never going to get beyond the whack-a-mole approach. We have to tackle the entire system, as other countries have done.”

The letter makes that point, and also urges the council to communicate with stakeholders in more innovative ways.

“While webinars and phone calls are being conducted on an increasing basis, engagement still lacks a consistent routine, making it difficult for stakeholders to receive and offer regular updates,” it reads.

“Moving forward, the RCC should develop a public outreach plan that features stakeholder engagement on a routine basis. This will ensure that the work plans are kept on track and potential problems are spotted in a timely manner.”

There’s been no response from the council as yet, but none of it will come as a surprise to the council members, given that stakeholders have been voicing similar complaints for months, Wilson said.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, an organization that lobbies the government on behalf of Canada’s biggest corporations, recently urged Harper to make the Beyond the Border initiatives a priority during the current session of Parliament.

“So far tangible benefits have been few and far between,” the chief executives wrote in a letter to Harper.

Beyond the Border is expected to be a key topic of discussion at this year’s annual Canadian American Business Council summit in Ottawa early next month, which will feature policy experts, industry leaders and elected officials from both sides of the border.

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