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Canada, U.S. agree to new border security and trade reforms

by Joan Murphy | December 14, 2011

WASHINGTON -- President Barrack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed Dec. 7 to two action plans to streamline cross-border trade and harmonize regulations.

"Put simply, we're going to make it easier to conduct the trade and travel that creates jobs, and we're going to make it harder for those who would do us harm and threaten our security," President Obama said Dec. 7 during a White House press conference alongside Prime Minister Harper.

The countries agreed to two documents. First, they released the Beyond the Border Action Plan to more cooperatively assess security threats early through joint actions and information sharing, such as developing a joint clearing system both countries can recognize for incoming cargo.

"Both countries will make better informed risk-management decisions due to advanced information sharing for inbound offshore cargo shipments, harmonization of advance data requirements, sharing of real time pre-load screening and examination results, and the harmonization of targeting and risk assessment methodologies and results that are key elements to the success of this initiative," the action plan said.

Shipments will be screened at the first point of entry and not re-screened when they cross the Canada-U.S. land border. Scrutiny will be focused on high-risk travelers and shipments.

Canada and the United States plan to explore product-specific pilots that could lower the inspection rates in certain segments, and Canada agreed to lead a pilot project for the agri-food sector.

The two countries also agreed to better protect consumers from offshore food-safety risks by conducting joint audits for plant, animal and food-safety systems in third countries.

On the same day, the White House released an Initial Joint Action Plan that highlights areas of stepped up cooperation between the United States and Canada to reduce unnecessary burdens on cross-border trade, reduce costs and coordinate regulations whenever possible.

"This Action Plan on Regulatory Cooperation will break down regulatory barriers and will make it easier for our firms and manufacturers to do business on both sides of the border," Prime Minister Harper said in a statement.

The countries pledged to develop common approaches to food-safety and make sure food-safety laboratory testing conducted in one country is acceptable to regulators in both countries.

For agriculture production, the two countries agreed to further align crop protection product approvals and maximum pesticide residue limits and tolerances in both countries.

The plan said that the two countries would develop a perimeter approach to plant protection for cross-border shipments, and develop comparable approaches to financial risk mitigation tools to protect the U.S. and Canadian fruit and vegetable suppliers from buyers that default on their payment obligations.

"Having comparable financial risk mitigation tools available to these businesses in both the United States and Canada would level the playing field by minimizing the risks for shippers in the bilateral marketplace," the 28-page report said.

Food processors quickly praised the bilateral agreement.

"By reducing duplicative inspection protocols and harmonizing the respective regulatory requirements of each trading partner, this initiative will help to streamline cross border trade between the U.S. and Canada," Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a statement.