My kids are very mad at you. Actually, they're running rampant right now, so probably they're happy that I'm here. Anyway, it's a pleasure to be with you.
After years of quietly existing in relative obscurity, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and particularly its renegotiation, are now big news. What will remain intact? What will be scrapped? How fast will we get a new deal? Could dairy and lumber sink NAFTA? What about protections for intellectual property?
Apart from NAFTA, there's another critical piece in how the United States and Canada do business, and that's border management. Obviously, I don't have to tell any of you everything I'm about to say, but it's for the benefit of the record so you know precisely where the Canadian American Business Council lands on these issues.
The border is where many Canadian and American business travellers, in particular, get up close and personal with NAFTA. Fees are collected. Shipments are inspected for compliance. Those trying to work or do business stateside can be held up depending on whether they qualify for appropriate NAFTA work visas.
Indeed, the work of government agencies on both sides of the border to manage our shared boundary is nearly as important to the health of our integrated economies, to the viability of our businesses, and even to the quality of life of those living near the border as is the implementation or renegotiation of any particular trade agreement.
Canada and the United States have had various forms of border pre-clearance, as this committee knows very well, since the 1950s. By way of definition, pre-clearance allows Canadians to be screened and given the green light by American officials for immigration, customs, and agricultural purposes before entering the United States and while still on Canadian soil. In recent years, there's been real progress in moving the screening away from the actual border and to pre-screening facilities in airports at Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. In practical terms—and again, I feel a little funny as I'm defining this for you, because I know this committee knows these things very well, but again for the purpose of the record so you know where we are—pre-clearance means air travellers can breeze through any American airport as if they're domestic passengers with no need to go through customs once they've landed in the United States. That opens up flight routes to any town that has a commercial airport, rather than limiting them to major cities with built-in U.S. customs facilities. Many communities in the United States don't have U.S. customs and border patrol at their airport, so they're not available for international flight routes. Any Canadian who's landed at JFK Airport or O'Hare and stood in long lines behind travellers from far-flung places appreciates the efficiency and the convenience of pre-clearance.
At its core, the practice of pre-clearance serves two significant policy goals. It helps Canadian and U.S. officials zero in on potentially bad actors and dangerous or illegal goods while at the same time making it easier for upstanding citizens and legitimate commerce to cross the border with relative ease and minimal hassle. I would add here that the former U.S. CBP official Alan Bersin—and I don't know whether he's testified before you or not—talked about operations at our border being like looking for a needle in a haystack. Pre-clearance is something that, in his terms, makes the haystack smaller, enhances security, and helps ease commerce.
Despite 50 years of pre-clearance measures at the border, however, everything changed after the terrible attacks of September 11, 2001. The U.S. and Canada understandably beefed up security at the border, and the boundaries subsequently became mired in congestion, delays, and hassles for those doing business or travelling frequently between our two countries.
On a personal note, it was in 2001 that I first became engaged with the Canadian American Business Council, which was, until then, kind of a lunch club in Washington for expats. After 9/11, when the border basically came to a close for commerce, the board of directors said, “You know, we really need to communicate to policy members how important for our economic security and health this border really is.” That's when I got involved with this particular organization in 2001, after having served four years here at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, which was the honour of my lifetime.
Canada began to complain. Inefficiencies at the border, after all, have a disproportionate impact on the Canadian economy, and for more than a decade a frustrated Canada pushed the U.S. to co-operate on initiatives aimed at fixing what had become a woefully inefficient boundary. The U.S., however, balked until, this committee will remember, in 2011, when a border vision was announced between then Prime Minister Harper and his counterpart, President Obama, followed by the 2015 signing of an updated and expanded pre-clearance agreement.
Your colleague and I were at the signing in Washington with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Canadian counterparts back in 2015.
But there's been an odd reversal of fortunes recently. The enabling legislation for the Harper-Obama pre-clearance agreement easily passed both chambers of Congress late last year, and now Americans are intently waiting for Canadians to enact their own pre-clearance companion law. This is interesting and ironic when you consider how utterly slow and dysfunctional the U.S. congressional system is. Usually Canada's parliamentary process is much more efficient, but not so on this particular issue at the moment.
Canada's Bill C-23 would implement the 2015 border pact. It was introduced, as you all know well, in June 2016 and is working its way through the process. The legislation, when passed, will expand the number of pre-clearance locations at airports and various other land, rail, and marine crossings, including Montreal's central train station.
For Canadian citizens, regardless of nationality, there are myriad advantages to pre-clearance. They'll be able to get all customs, immigration, and agriculture processes out of the way before they board planes or cross the border on Canadian soil, consistent with Canadian law and Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In order to comply with the new agreement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials needed clear legal authority to question and search those in pre-clearance areas seeking to enter the United States, and Canadian border officials operating in pre-clearance areas in the U.S. would get the equivalent powers. It is not a one-way street but a truly reciprocal initiative.
As an aside—and I think you heard about this earlier today and you probably know—Canada has not exercised its prerogative to open pre-clearance facilities in the U.S. in the air environment but may wish to do so in years to come. I know that Canadian snowbirds who spend their winters in Arizona or Florida would welcome the opportunity to pre-clear customs before returning home.
Canada agreed that it was a fair trade-off that would give Canadians and Canadian businesses easier access to the U.S., and at long last we had a deal to create an efficient border. Yet we're still waiting—I say with the utmost respect—for Canadian Parliament to make the pre-clearance deal come to life. In our opinion, it is time to speed up the process and get people moving for the benefit of both Canada and the United States and for the health of our deeply integrated economies.
Thank you so very much.