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Harper majority paves way for perimeter security; stepping stone to customs union, says leaked U.S. cable

With a new majority in the House of Commons, the Harper government will want to move quickly to complete a perimeter security deal with the Obama administration before U.S. elections get in the way, says Luiza Savage in Macleans this week. Since before the SPP, Savage has followed Canada-U.S. integration more closely than most journalists. Her website, BILATERALIST, is an invaluable source of information, events, documents, videos and profiles of the corporate players pushing the deep integration agenda forward.

According to her latest article, these corporate groups are “working on putting together ‘action plans’ for the leaders,” and there are “expectations for another Harper-Obama meeting this summer at which the leaders would approve the action plans and instruct their governments to implement them.”

Here are the modest-to-significant reforms business groups in the U.S. are asking for, based on letters to the US Commerce Department cited by Savage:

Target Corp.: “[T]he safety requirements and test methods applicable to camping tents are markedly different between the U.S. and Canada, making it difficult and cost prohibitive to provide the same product in each country.” The retailer called for “greater regulatory coherence” that would “increase cross-border investment.”

Express Association of America: According to Savage, this “group representing the shipping companies DHL, Federal Express, TNT and UPS, recommended that Canada raise the dollar value of packages that can cross the border without duties or customs clearance from $20 to $200 to reduce paperwork and costs for U.S. exporters.”

U.S. agricultural lobby: “harmonization of the maximum permissible pesticide residue levels for produce.”

Biotech lobby: “consistent science-based processes that would significantly decrease the time required for authorization of biotech crops and their products.”

Campbell Soup Co., a former member of the North American Competitiveness Council: harmonization of regulations on vitamin- or mineral-fortified foods, and of truck weight limits which are lower in the U.S. than in Canada.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “examining wherever possible what can be done to align health care regulatory frameworks between the U.S. and Canada for medical devices and pharmaceuticals.”

Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER): “If cargo is inspected by a U.S. agent, there should be no need for a re-inspection by a Canadian agent, and vice-versa,” wrote PNWER in its letter to the Commerce Department. According to Savage, the letter also: “proposed ’embedding’ agricultural and customs inspectors with each other to gain experience and build trust. As well, the group pitched the creation of a joint ‘two-country’ visa that would ‘allow business or pleasure travellers into both countries on the basis of a single visa issued by either country.'”

B3-Businesses for Better Borders: A new group representing Canadian and U.S. manufacturers lobby associations, B3 writes in its letter they “are asking for something which no one has asked for in the past–a real, true non-stop, non-transactional entry for trusted shipper-manufacturers. Trusted shippers should not have to stop at the border and account for every box in every truck… These are our best corporate citizens, our true trusted shippers, who have invested millions in the security of their cross-border supply chain. Trusted shippers have earned trust.”

Surfing Bilateralist.com, I came across an event in Washington, DC next month called “Northern Crime and Terror Networks: Fact or Fiction,” put on by the Woodrow Wilson Center. The event description sheds some light on where the Beyond the Border security agenda might take Canada-U.S. policing:

In an effort to inform a more evidence-based policy approach to Canada-U.S. border integrity, a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers has been collecting data on cross-border criminal activity, with surprising results on the nature and extent of cross-border criminal connections on both sides of the border. The findings bolster the argument in favor of shifting from joint enforcement to joint jurisdiction-a model similar to the way Canada and the United States have been collaborating on matters of national defense for decades. (Emphasis mine.)

Joint jurisdiction, increased information sharing by Canadian and U.S. police and government agencies, the placing of U.S. border or police officials inside Canada to jointly enforce harmonized security policy… This is a far stretch from what business groups are proposing to ease traffic and red tape. But it’s what we know the Canada-U.S. business lobby will accept–what they were prepared to accept under the Security and Prosperity Partnership–if it means profits will grow.

A U.S. embassy cable from Ottawa dated January 28, 2005, released by Wikileaks just before the election, gives us another reason to fear where perimeter security will lead us:

A stronger continental “security perimeter” can strengthen economic performance, mainly by improving efficiency at land borders and airports. It could also facilitate future steps toward trilateral economic integration, such as a common external tariff or a customs union, if and when our three countries chose to pursue them. Paradoxically, the security and law enforcement aspects of the envisioned initiative could hold as much – or more – potential for broad economic benefits than the economic dimension.

Under a common external tariff or customs union, economic as well as security policy autonomy will vanish for Canada. Are there really large economic gains from renouncing independence like this? Not according to the U.S. embassy:

There is little basis on which to estimate the size of the “upside” gains from an integration initiative concentrating on non-tariff barriers of the kind contained in NAI (North American Initiative). For this reason, we cannot make claims about how large the benefits might be on a national or continental scale. When advocating NAI, it would be better to highlight specific gains to individual firms, industries or travelers, and especially consumers.

Will public concerns with the latest integration proposals be acknowledged by the new Harper government? Savage writes this week in Macleans:

In Canada, the job of wading through proposals on border management falls to the Beyond the Border Working Group, composed of bureaucrats from several government departments including Industry, Public Safety, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Transport. It is chaired by Simon Kennedy, the senior associate deputy minister at Industry. Submissions to the Canadian group have not been released publicly. However, officials are working on a report that will be made available online summarizing the input they receive. (Emphasis mine.)

That’s not transparent or inclusive of public concerns. It’s the SPP model all over again. We see a final product, maybe even a list of specific priorities for regulatory harmonization and security policy integration. But we have no way to challenge them or change them.

You can still let the government and opposition parties know you don’t want a perimeter security deal with the U.S. Click here to see our election Action Alert, which is directed at all parties. If you want to include more information on the perimeter security deal in your letter, click here for some suggestions on why the deal is bad for Canada.