Canada and the United States have reached a deal that lays the groundwork for faster rail and truck trade between the neighbors by expanding a preclearance program to land and marine ports of entry.
While pre-inspection pilots have allowed faster clearance of trucked and railed freight by handling some of the customs paperwork before cargo hits the border, the new agreement will allow the two countries to fully clear cargo before railroads and trucks reach landside ports of entry, reducing congestion and freeing up customs officials. It will take time, however, before US customs agencies can create pre-clearance capabilities, and the pact is no guarantee the new capabilities will be realized.
There are pre-inspection pilots at land ports of entry, such as at the Peace Bridge to Buffalo, New York, and at Blaine, Washington, but preclearance is only available for southbound air cargo at eight Canadian airports in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.
The number of trucks traversing US-Canada ports of entry was down 2.7 percent in the first quarter of 2019 on a year-over-year basis, equating to about 1.38 million truck crossings, according to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Pressure on truck drivers to make better use of their time has only increased, though, after the 2017 implementation of the US electronic-logging device (ELD) rule made it harder for US truck drivers and those Canadian truckers making cross-border moves to fudge how long they’re allowed to drive without taking a break. Considering that many of the goods hauled are used in auto production and other manufacturing, shippers are under pressure to not only keep cross-border truck rates down but also ensure that shipments are delivered on time, or risk holding up a factory line.
Preclearance was included as a part of “shared border management” in the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. That plan called for streamlined customs clearance as well as a pilot project shifting some US Customs operations to Canada from cramped accommodations in Buffalo, and moving Canadian customs to Alexandria Bay in New York.
The plans were later scrapped in 2007, however, after then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff broke off negotiations with former Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. The US would not accept rigorous background and criminal checks as alternatives to fingerprinting, even if individuals decided not to enter the country. Canada only allows fingerprinting of persons charged with a crime. At the time, it seemed unlikely a preclearance agreement would ever come to fruition.
But in 2011, then-president Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched Beyond the Border, a new initiative to speed the movement of goods and people across the border and push for a new preclearance arrangement between the countries. Two years ago, separate legislation was introduced in both countries to expand the preclearance partnership. Through the new arrangement, US customs officials would be stationed in Canada, and vice versa for Canadian customs officials.