Thursday, January 22, 2009

What He Means for Us

(Michael Kergin & Allan Gotlieb — Globe & Mail)

If the past is a guide, Canadians can expect Congress to cede to protectionist pressures. While it now seems unlikely that the Obama administration will seek to reopen NAFTA, aggressive trade action by Congress in pursuing punitive measures against perceived Canadian subsidies and dumping practices could constitute serious threats to our economic interest. (The recent B.C. decision to lower stumpage fees will soon draw fire from Oregon and Montana.)

A related area for monitoring will be the administration's approach to managing our common border. The question for Canadians is clear: Can a better balance be achieved between effective security required to protect our citizens from terrorist or criminal actions and the need to facilitate the trade flows critical to our countries' competitiveness in the global marketplace?

It is encouraging that there was little mention of border issues during the presidential campaign. This suggests that Americans may be recovering from the trauma of the immediate post-9/11 period. The new Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has made a welcome distinction between northern and southern borders, acknowledging that different measures may be required to deal with each.

This having been said, the border is becoming an increasingly serious obstacle to the free flow of commerce and people. Many of the benefits of the Smart Border Accord of 2001 have been rolled back as Congress accepted such restrictive measures as passport requirements at Canada-U.S. land borders, 100-per-cent screening by 2011 of containers entering the U.S. (despite prior inspection at Canadian ports of entry) and the Secure Fence Act replicating some of the tighter measures characterizing the U.S.-Mexican border.

Modernizing our borders should stand atop the agenda for Mr. Obama's visit to Ottawa. It is in both our interests to prevent our border from turning into a wall. As with the Smart Border Accord, two senior personal representatives might be mandated to submit recommendations for improving border infrastructure, clearance procedures and advance technologies. They should also examine how we might move toward establishing a common security perimeter. And they could call for a Permanent Joint Border Commission headed by cabinet-level officials to jointly manage the border.

Michael Kergin and Allan Gotlieb are senior advisers to the law firm Bennett Jones LLP, and former Canadian ambassadors to the United States.

Read the complete article here.