A long-awaited agreement has been signed between the U.S. and Canada to expedite movement of travelers across the border.
The Beyond the Border agreement signed in December 2011 by President Barack Obama and then-Canadian Premier Stephen Harper deepens cooperative efforts along the northern border. One of the last items to reach a cooperative agreement under Beyond the Border was signed Monday by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney. It establishes the framework for pre-clearance operations and is expected to facilitate Amtrak and bus travel across the border.
Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas says it was the most complex provision. “This is really an historic new framework for the entire relationship between Canada and the U.S. at our land border. It really firms up the notion of the northern border being a shared border and a shared border operation between two trusted allies who have common interests in how to manage the border and how to make it work in the interests of both countries on both sides, thanks to this framework.”
While many of the Beyond the Border agreements deal with technology, this new agreement sets terms for pre-clearance of Amtrak passengers traveling between the U.S. and Canada and will allow bi-national co-staffing of small rural crossings. SUNY Plattsburgh Economic and Finance Department Chair Colin Read: “The biggest value to our area may be the Amtrak service to Montreal. Once they get the infrastructure in place to be pre-cleared in Montreal so the train wouldn’t have to actually stop at the border and clear there. Perhaps even the buses. With the Amtrak, they could set up a remote site right at the Amtrak station in Montreal so there would be a border customs station right at the Montreal train station. U.S. bound passengers would then clear right there and wouldn’t have to stop at the border. So what I think it really does is portends to greater cooperation in the future.”
NY 21st District Congresswoman Elise Stefanik was unavailable for comment from Washington on Tuesday. She praised the deal in an email, calling it a “....landmark agreement...” that will “..help increase efficiency along our northern border...(and) ... help increase trade with our Canadian neighbors.”
Stefanik’s predecessor, former Congressman Bill Owens, is now a consultant on cross-border issues. He says the travelers pre-clearance agreement had a number of technical and jurisdictional issues to consider. “ This new agreement is focused on the movement of people. We do have programs that are actually focused on the movement of commercial traffic which allows truckers basically to pre-clear the load. The individual drivers have to be processed as well. We have other programs that we’re running jointly with Canada. So we have a number of things going on in the commercial area and in some senses that’s actually easier to work through. Because there are a limited number of players in that. Whereas in the individual sector you have millions of people crossing the border.”
Enabling legislation must be approved in both the U.S. and Canada for the pre-clearance agreement to be implemented. Owens expects there will be some issues to deal with in Washington. “This type of legislation doesn’t get a lot of attention. So it would probably need to be tacked on to another larger piece of legislation. The other real issue is that the focus is not on the U.S.-Canadian border. The focus is always on the southern border. We’re trying to expedite people. We’re trying to expedite goods. That’s a slightly different slant than those who are interested in stopping people from coming into the United States.”