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Bill Owens: Pass Preclearance Legislation

With all the rhetoric on borders and trade during this campaign season, there is something that Congress can and should do in the lame-duck session to bolster border security and economic growth.  Specifically, Congress should pass the bipartisan Promoting Travel, Commerce and Security Act, which would fully implement the 2015 US-Canada Preclearance Agreement.

In March 2015, the US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and then Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney signed the Agreement on Land, Rail, Marine and Air Transport Preclearance Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada.   This groundbreaking agreement expands preclearance to all modes of transportation and represents a 21st Century approach to border security.  By permitting US Customs and Border Protection officials to conduct agricultural, customs, and immigration inspections on Canadian soil, government officials can identify security issues before they reach the US.  Further, preclearance reduces congestion and delays at the border, thereby improving the predictability and efficiency of legitimate trade and travel between the US and Canada.

Both the US and Canada, however, need to pass legislation implementing the preclearance agreement.  Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Representative Ann Kuster (D-NH) and Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), introduced the Promoting Travel, Commerce and Security Act, which would fully implement the 2015 US-Canada Preclearance Act.  These Members, who represent states and districts that border Canada, understand the importance of preclearance, because many of their (as do my former) constituents cross the border on a regular basis and an efficient border is essential to economic development in their communities.

As a former Member of Congress who had the privilege of representing upstate New York, trade with Canada was the life-blood of communities like Plattsburgh, but delays and uncertainty at the border risked jobs and economic growth.  During my tenure in Congress, I was the Co-Chair of the Northern Border Caucus which was outspoken in its support for Preclearance.  In recent months, I have been invited to speak on the issue of Preclearance at the U.S./Canada Border Conference in Detroit, Michigan on September 19-20, 2016 and the CANAMBTA Conference in Washington, D.C. on October 2-4, 2016. 

I am also a member of the PENWAR task force on Preclearance, which has met weekly for many months.

The benefits of the US-Canada preclearance agreement are not limited to just states bordering Canada.  For instance, US-Canada trade and investment support 112,600 jobs in Kentucky, home to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers.  Kentucky's exports to Canada are valued at $7.2 billion in 2015.  Canada is also Virginia's top destination for exporting, totaling $3.4 billion in value in 2015.  Around 280,800 Virginian jobs are supported by US-Canadian trade, an important statistic that should encourage House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte to support policies, such as pre-clearance. 

Congress must not wait until next year to pass the Promoting Travel, Commerce and Security Act.  Canada is already moving ahead with passing its own legislation to implement the US-Canada Preclearance Agreement, and a failure by the US this year to pass implementing legislation would make many question our commitment to working cooperatively on border security with one of our closest allies. 

Preclearance is an issue that can unite Democrats and Republicans, enhance border security and stimulate economic growth and job creation, and I call on Congress to pass the Promoting Travel, Commerce and Security Act before lawmakers adjourn for the year. 

Mr. Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st and a Senior Advisor to Dentons.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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