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Perimeter security deal leaked… I mean, CCCE releases recommendations for NAFTA-plus pact

On Friday last week, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives publicized its submission to the Beyond the Border Working Group, a binational creation tasked with turning the February 4 Harper-Obama declaration on perimeter security into a workable plan. The powerful corporate lobby group headed by former Liberal John Manley put its recommendations into a report: From Vision to Action – Advancing the Canada-United States Partnership. They range from the innocuous (a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit – duh) to the incendiary (do whatever the U.S. wants on copyright). Though they won’t be the only bright ideas lobbed at Harper from the business community, if past experience is any guide, the CCCE wishlist is as good as a leak from the Harper government. We should expect all or nearly all of it to wind up in the perimeter action plan later this summer.

Back in early 2003, the CCCE, then under the leadership of Tom d’Aquino, launched a North American Security and Prosperity Initiative (NASPI), which exaggerated the impact of new security measures on Canada-U.S. trade to call for a deepening of North American economic and security integration. An initial statement declared:

Economic integration is now irreversible, but in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it also has become clear that North American economic and physical security are indivisible. Our two countries have no choice but to take a more comprehensive approach to managing our relationship.

The NASPI demanded action on five fronts:

Reinventing borders by eliminating as many as possible of the barriers to the movement of people and goods across the internal border and by shifting the emphasis to protection of the approaches to North America;
Maximizing economic efficiencies, primarily through harmonization or mutual recognition across a wide range of regulatory regimes;
Negotiation of a comprehensive resource security pact, covering agriculture and forest products as well as energy, metals and minerals, based on the two core principles of open markets and regulatory compatibility;
Rebuilding Canada’s military capability both to defend our own territory and to do our share in ensuring continental and global security; and
Creating a new institutional framework based not on the European model but on cooperation with mutual respect for sovereignty, perhaps using joint commission models to foster coordination and to prevent and resolve conflicts.

The details showed up in a corresponding presentation from d’Aquino to the CCCE. Shortly afterwards, in May 2005, Manley and d’Aquino co-authored another, much higher profile report–Building a North American Community–with some friends at the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States.  It recommended a security perimeter, customs union and shared resource pact to be put in place by 2010. That same year, then Prime Minister Paul Martin launched the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) with Presidents Bush and Fox. Our leaders basically took the CCCE’s PowerPoint, changed one word in the title (“initiative” to “partnership”), and voila — public policy.

This happened again over the four-year lifespan of the SPP, when a group of 30 CEOs was asked to shepherd the entire partnership process in 2006. We put the whole sordid history into a chronology, which will need updating at the end of the summer if Manley gets his way again. The 2011 requests of the perimeter security deal from the CCCE reproduce and build on past recommendations. Among the more controversial are:

• On a sector-by-sector basis, bilaterally harmonize external tariffs at the lowest prevailing rate consistent with multilateral obligations. Begin with sectors in which existing differences in tariff rates are already minor. (Tariffs may seem antiquated today but Canada maintains some unique rates, for example to protect our farmers.)

• Combine existing trusted-traveller programs into a single Canada-United States Trusted Traveller Program. In the meantime, our governments should dramatically expand marketing efforts to promote membership in the NEXUS program by engaging the private sector. (These systems require disclosing large amounts of personal information to Canadian and U.S. security agencies, normalizing what would otherwise be considered an unnecessary invasion of privacy for no real security gains.)

• Aligning advanced passenger-screening programs and biometrics technology – Our governments should accelerate the work already underway globally toward the adoption of common standards in the use of biometric information. Canada should invest more rapidly in technology that is compatible with systems deployed by the United States. Canada and the United States should agree to align their advanced passenger-screening programs, including the sharing of data.

• Expanding bi-national border enforcement efforts – The existing Canada-U.S. Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs) are unqualified successes. This intelligence-sharing partnership should be expanded to better identify, investigate and interdict persons and organizations that pose a threat, or are engaged in criminal activity at the perimeter. Cooperation should also be expanded between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police under the current Integrated Cross-border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations program (Canada-U.S. Shiprider). Joint law enforcement operations should be introduced on land, complementing the Shiprider program. (Note that criminal activity is not a pre-requisite for the CCCE for posing a threat at the border, which is in line with the Harper government’s continued sharing of information on residents of Canada with U.S. officials, according to recent news based on Wikileaks cables from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa.)

• Canada should update its copyright legislation at the earliest opportunity. Canada’s copyright legislation was last amended in 1997 and badly needs modernizing to reflect the impact of new technologies and to ensure that Canada meets its international obligations under the World Intellectual Property Organization’s 1997 Internet Treaties. Legislation to amend the Copyright Act was introduced in 2005, 2008 and 2010, but in each case died on the order paper. The federal government should proceed as quickly as possible to introduce new copyright legislation and expedite its passage. (What this has to do with border security, I really don’t know. But we know the U.S. government is perpetually bullying Canada to strengthen protections for Big Pharma and Big Entertainment/Software.)

The latest CCCE proposals also include: perimeter defence akin to NORAD but for land, air and sea defence; a common entry-exit system such as US-VISIT; rolling back regulations that affect cross-border supply chains; mutual recognition of food safety tests; develop a common climate and energy policy based on market logic, as well as streamline energy project approvals such as pipelines.

Some of these–the security policy changes–are the CCCE repeating back to the government what it wants to do anyway, or at least what the Obama administration wants Harper to do. The rest are the economic measures the business community have been pushing for to streamline regulations and increase profits in order, they say, to remain competitive with respect to Chinese and other BRIC country competition. I bet you the shirt off my back they all end up in the Beyond the Border Action Plan. Whether the public in Canada or the United States will accept the plan is another matter.

They didn’t in 2003, or 2005, or 2009…

Write to the Harper government today to let them know you won’t accept it in 2011 either.