Vision and Focus Needed to Solve Canada-U.S. Border Problems

As published in The Hill Times, May 30, 2011.

By John Manley

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives has supported efforts by successive Canadian governments to build on our historic defence and economic partnership with the United States and to improve our mutual security and competitiveness. We endorsed the comprehensive framework agreement signed in February by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama in Washington because we believe that it will underpin the economic recovery, strengthen job creation and make North America a more attractive destination for investment.

In almost every sector, Canadian companies are aggressively seeking markets and opportunities beyond our continent. Smart, skills-based immigration policy has enriched our society and strengthened Canada’s ties with the rest of the world, China and India in particular.  As business leaders, we support efforts to forge closer economic relationships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. We favour Canadian participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership and we encourage our Governments to take the hard decisions that will allow us once again to play a leading role in global trade policy development.

But the United States remains our primary market and the case for closer economic integration with the world’s biggest economy has been repeatedly confirmed by Canada’s leading think tanks and economists. Canadians understand that removing trade barriers and accelerating cross-border flows of goods, services and people will create jobs and growth here at home. But achieving real progress will require vision and focus. Investment decisions require longer time-frames and planning than is the case for electoral cycles. We seek clarity, stability and assurance on the ‘rules of the road’. [Download the CCCE’s submission to the Beyond the Border Working Group.]

Notwithstanding the efforts made after 9-11 through the Smart Border Accord, the evidence, both anecdotal and documented, points to a thickening border. Business owners worry that U.S. fiscal pressures will lead to more fees and levies on people, goods and services crossing the border – yet another reason to support the current initiative. The way forward is for Canadian and U.S. officials to work together on the key areas of perimeter security, expediting access at the border, regulatory cooperation and a collaborative approach on energy and the environment.

In the age of global terrorism, security is key. But the place to stop the bad guys is at the perimeter; duplication of effort at the Canada-U.S. border makes no sense.  Advanced technology will enable us to achieve many of our goals. We encourage the voluntary use of biometrics for identification. Our integrated economies and their supply chain dynamics underscore the need for bilateral collaboration and cooperation, especially in managing our gateways and border infrastructure. Closer regulatory compatibility will also help in unclogging the border.  The agreement to create the Regulatory Cooperation Council is a start but what matters are results. 

At its core, this initiative is about fostering economic growth. Demographic trends and the shift of global economic gravity toward emerging markets pose serious challenges to North American competitiveness; our future standard of living will depend in part on continuous education as well as our ability to recruit and retain talent. We need to improve the current approach to labour mobility – working toward mutual recognition of professional qualifications and encouraging legitimate business travel between Canada and the United States. We should take a lesson from the recent restructuring of the North American auto industry, where cooperation among labour, business and government has restored jobs and profitability. And at a time of growing global demand for energy, strengthened collaboration across the border can position North America as a leading provider of advanced energy, related technologies and services.   

The Prime Minister and the President must each champion and speak out on behalf of their initiative. The potential benefits to both economies are significant. Our premiers and governors have essential roles in this process, given the constitutional divisions of power in our federal systems. We strongly encourage the involvement of community leadership, recognizing that both the development of practical policies and their successful implementation will require adjustments and a tailoring to local conditions.

To a large degree, geography is destiny. The Canada-U.S. economic relationship is increasingly about making things together and improving our global competitiveness. Our mission is to show the world that we can create an open, highly competitive, knowledge-based, continental economy that reinforces each country’s sovereignty.

The Honourable John Manley, P.C., O.C., is President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives