President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have unveiled new border security deals aimed at guarding against terrorism and speeding up cross-border traffic.
The joint approach to border protection involves enhanced "tracking of travelers, better cyber-security protection, joint government facilities and improved oversight of overseas cargo shipped to both countries," according to the National Post.
The agreement comes despite months of speculation about the declining state of the US relationship with its largest trading partner.
The Obama administration in September proposed a jobs bill containing "Buy American" provisions similar to proposed legislation that strained the US-Canada relations for much of 2009.
The "American Jobs Act" would prevent Canadian firms from bidding on US contracts, a move criticized by the Harper government for being trade protectionist.
However on Wednesday, Harper reportedly hailed the deals, announced after talks with Obama at the White House on Wednesday, as the most significant step forward in US-Canada co-operation since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
He said the deals, though likely take years to implement, would create "a new, modern border for a new century," enhancing the mutual security of both countries while easing border traffic delays.
"Canada has no friends among America's enemies," Harper said Agence France-Presse reported. "Today's agreement will yield lasting dividends to travelers, traders, manufacturers, in fact everybody — whose legitimate business or pleasure takes them across the border."
AFP quoted Obama as saying: "We will make it easier to conduct the trade and travel that creates jobs. We're going to make it harder for those who do us harm and threaten our security. Because of old systems and heavy congestion it still takes too many products too long to cross the borders. And for every business, Canadian or American, time is money."
Canada and the United States share what is often termed the world's longest undefended border and the largest bilateral trading relationship in the world — $US1.4 billion ($1.37 billion) in goods and services crossed the frontier per day in 2010. ~ AFP
GlobalPost's Sandro Contenta wrote recently that the US has been eager to tighten security along a border that many American politicians, since the 9/11 attacks, consider too porous.
The Canadian government’s priority is to ease trade congestion along the almost 4,000 mile boundary. An estimated $1.6 billion worth of trade crosses the perimeter each day, a flow crucial to keeping Canada’s economy humming.
Among the highlights of the new plan, listed by Postmedia News, are:
- Enhanced tracking of travelers in both countries, and identification of threatening people who seek to "enter the perimeter" of both countries.
- An entry-exit system that requires both countries to share information on when their citizens have crossed the border.
- Sharing of information, including biometric data, on people in foreign nations seeking to come to the U.S. and Canada.
- Sharing of information about criminals who might be seeking to cross the border.
- Cooperation between police forces and security departments in identifying "radicalized" people.
- Joint screening of cargo coming from foreign countries to Canada and the U.S.
- Endowment of "trusted" status on companies in either Canada or the U.S. that ship goods across the border, to allow for cargo pre-screening at the factory instead of the border.