Canada and the U.S. are expected to announce a new agreement Wednesday to ease border congestion and better co-ordinate security between the two countries.
The agreement deals with three dozen or so elements of trade and security policy, but the finer points of how the measures will be implemented will be worked out over the next 12 to 18 months.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama announced the Beyond the Border talks last February, leading to a year of consultations and talks on trade and security. The two leaders, who last met in Hawaii last month as part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Summit, are meeting in Washington Wednesday.
The leaders have scheduled a press conference for sometime between 2:45 and 3 p.m. ET Wednesday. CBCnews.ca and CBC News Network will carry the press conference live.
Last August, the government released its consultation report, including comments from groups in favour of better co-operation and those worried about how much information Canada is prepared to share with U.S. authorities.
The report notes Canadians make almost 40 million trips to the U.S. every year and $1.6 billion in goods and services cross the border every day. Canada and the U.S. have more trade flowing across the Windsor-Detroit corridor than any other border crossing in the world.
The consultation report also hints at what Canadians can expect in the agreement.
Here are six things to expect from Wednesday’s announcement.
1. Better aligned regulations: Canada and the U.S. still have different regulations and standards on a lot of products, on everything from vehicles to food to consumer products. Those rules can slow trade or make it harder to make goods compatible, so much so that Harper and Obama set up a separate agreement on regulatory co-operation. Canada expects this agreement to lower costs to businesses and consumers.
2. Simplified, harmonized and streamlined border processes: It's a safe bet that the government will expand existing or introduce new pre-clearance programs like NEXUS, which has almost 500,000 participants. Low-risk people can get pre-approved for travel across the border. It's also possible the government will introduce more dedicated lanes at the border for trucks transporting goods. And a number of groups recommended pre-clearance programs to avoid border inspections for goods being shipped from one country to the other.
3. One entry and exit system: Canada and the U.S. are likely to integrate their entry and exit systems so they can more easily monitor which visitors are moving between countries. Canada will have a better idea of who leaves because they’ll know when travellers enter the U.S.
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4. More information sharing: The government says enhanced information sharing will mean a more efficient border because as much screening as possible will be done away from the border. Canada's privacy commissioner urged the government must make sure any information is dealt with according to the privacy protections required under Canadian law. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association called for clear appeal procedures if the two countries move to shared watch lists like the no-fly list.
5. Expanded law enforcement co-operation programs: On a trip to Canada last fall, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano referred to the Shiprider program that lets law enforcement officials work together on shared waterways like the Great Lakes. It's likely there will be more initiatives like this one in the Beyond the Border deal.
6. Co-operation on protecting critical and cyber infrastructure: One of four pillars in the initial announcement focused on critical infrastructure and cyber security. Canada and the U.S. want to improve defences against cyber attacks and make transportation and communication network security stronger. Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who was on the team that negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, wrote in Policy Options this month to expect reinforcement against cyber threats to electrical grids, oil and gas pipelines, and the circuitry for everything from ATM transactions to air traffic control.