Washington Notebook: U.S., Canada launch truck pre-inspection program
The United States and Canada on Monday launched a commercial truck pre-inspection pilot program at the heavily trafficked Peace Bridge crossing between Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ontario.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is testing the concept of conducting primary inspections of U.S.-bound trucks and cargo on the Canadian side of the border to improve the fluidity of traffic through the Customs plaza. The process will include identity verification of the truck, driver and cargo, and radiation screening. Once trucks cross to the U.S. side via a dedicated, pre-inspection lane, they will either get a green light or be directed to a cargo lot for secondary x-ray inspection. CBP has said it will provide front-of-the-line privileges to motor carriers in the Free and Secure Trade program.
The pre-processing demonstration program, which is scheduled to last a year, is one of many steps being undertaken by the neighboring countries as part of the 2011 Beyond the Border Initiative. The agreement, signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama, is aimed at cooperatively streamlining customs procedures for shippers and travelers crossing the northern border, expanding infrastructure capacity for vehicular traffic, and harmonizing regulations to benefit their respective economies.
"The United States and Canada have long enjoyed a strong binational partnership further bolstered by the Beyond the Border agreement. Pre-inspection ... holds great promise of facilitating a more efficient flow of goods, delivering environmental benefits, and reducing congestion for all crossing the bridge. A more predictable border serves to grow the already deeply connected economies of Western New York and Southern Ontario, supporting jobs and businesses on both sides of the bridge," Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., said in a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Higgins, a member of the Homeland Security Committee and the Northern Border Caucus, toured the pre-inspection area along with several U.S. and Canadian officials.
Pre-inspection of cargo has been a goal of many security and trade experts for the past decade, but had to overcome legal, political and diplomatic hurdles. Members of the trade community hope the program can become permanent and be expanded to other border crossings that also have large volumes of truck traffic.
Last year, CBP and the Canada Border Services Agency conducted a five-month trial at the Surrey, British Columbia, crossing across the Pacific Highway from Blaine, Wash., to test standard operating procedures and technologies for cargo pre-inspection. The site was chosen because it has much less traffic and a less complicated lane pattern than the Peace Bridge river crossing.
In January, the Peace Bridge Authority completed a $1 million construction project consisting of a secure CBP pre-inspection zone, inspection booths, offices, parking, and secure access. The relocation of primary processing will help address several inadequacies at the U.S. Customs Plaza, including constrained space, limited commercial booths, the need to use a mobile instead of fixed commercial vehicle x-ray system, and conflicting traffic patterns for both cars and trucks, the bi-national bridge authority said.
"The program has the potential to dramatically reduce wait times at one of the busiest border crossings between Canada and the U.S. Its successful implementation will go a long way towards making our shared border more efficient," Perrin Beatty, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said in statement issued by the Canadian government.