Tories to announce deal forming North America ‘perimeter’
by John Ivison
The Conservative government is set to announce a landmark security and trade deal with the United States, designed to create a perimeter around North America and allow people and goods to flow more freely across the border.
Sources suggested that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama will sign the broad-ranging agreement in Washington as early as next month.
“It’s big on ideals but maybe not so great on details,” said one person familiar with the negotiations. “But it does use the word ‘perimeter’ many times…The question is, will it reduce the compliance burden at the Canada-U.S. border?”
The New Border Vision is being billed as a 21st century border management system that will include new common consumer product regulations, a pre-clearance agreement for goods crossing the border to expedite waiting times and the use of advanced technology to utilize biometric data for travelers at airports and land crossings, according to people familiar with the plan.
The new framework will likely be discussed when the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visits Ottawa this Monday but government sources said the announcement will not be made by Ms. Clinton. A spokesman for the Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, said: “No such announcement is planned. We don’t comment on hearsay or speculation.” A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa refused to comment.
Colin Robertson, a senior research fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, said the agreement is an attempt by the Canadian government to link security to improved access to the U.S. for Canadians.
“‘Perimeter’ is a vital word because back in the Chrétien government days we couldn’t use it because we would get caught up in the sovereignty allergy we too often have,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense.”
The U.S. announced a similar deal with Mexico in March. It included moves to expedite travel and commerce such as secure transit lanes for pre-cleared rail and truck shipments, as well as passenger pre-clearance for individuals.
Business is likely to welcome a more coordinated perimeter approach to regulation and security but one exporter remained skeptical. “A vision without money is a hallucination,” he said.
The U.S. and Canada have taken piecemeal steps to coordinate their efforts against common threats like terrorism. Last year, Canada signed on to the NEXUS membership card and Free and Secure Trade (FAST) trusted traveller programs as a valid means of identification at the border. However, more sweeping agreements have foundered in the past, notably the Security and Prosperity Partnership agreement signed in 2005 by former Prime Minister Paul Martin, ex-U.S. President George W. Bush and former Mexican President Vicente Fox.
The SPP was aimed at reducing the cost of trade and improving the flow of people and information but became a lightning rod for criticism on both sides of the border. In the U.S., CNN anchor Lou Dobbs argued the SPP was part of a plan to merge the U.S., Canada and Mexico into a North American Union, while a number of organizations criticized the agreement for its secrecy.
In Canada, NDP leader Jack Layton said the process was not just unconstitutional but “non-constitutional” because there were no oversight mechanisms. By 2009, all three governments had abandoned the SPP, which is “no longer an active initiative,” according to its website.
Mr. Robertson said that increased integration could impact areas like immigration and refugee policy but was unlikely to lead to a European Union-style agreement. “Economic union would mean a common currency and, over the last couple of years, it has been definitively proven that we are far better off with our own currency,” he said.