Second cross-border cargo pre-clearance pilot gets going

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So a second pilot program designed to test “pre-clearance” protocols for truck-carried cargoes heading from the Canada into the U.S. is getting underway this week at the “Peace Bridge,” one the busiest land-border gateways linking the U.S. and Canada near Niagara Falls, to help alleviate traffic congestion.

The U.S. Customs Border Patrol (CBP) agency and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) recently wrapped up “Phase I” of this cargo pre-clearance effort back in January at the Pacific Highway crossing adjacent to Surrey, British Columbia; a six-month long effort that designed as a “proof of concept” to determine the feasibility of placing CBP officers on Canadian soil to pre-inspect selected southbound trucks, drivers and cargo prior to arrival into the U.S.

That effort also tested out what those agencies dubbed the “feasibility” of using certain technologies and jointly-developed procedures in order to conduct CBP primary truck processing in Canada.

CBP and CBSA used members of the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program to test all of these new “pre-clearance” protocols upon as FAST-member trucking firms get to use dedicated pre-inspection lanes located on the Canadian side of the border. Secondary inspections, when required, were conducted in the U.S. port of entry, CBP noted.

With “Phase I” now done, “Phase II” becomes operational at the Peace Bridge linking Buffalo, N.Y. with Fort Erie, ON, which will run for six months to a year. Phase II will test the ability of the pre-inspection process to reduce wait times and border congestion, CBP noted.

Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D-NY), a longtime advocate of such cargo pre-clearance efforts, said in a statement last month he is trying to make pre-clearance a “permanent program” via an amendment he made to the immigration bill now passed in the Senate last year; a bill which continues to be debated in Congress this year.

“It’s been a long road to get the Peace Bridge chosen as one of only two pilot sites in the country, and then to get all American and Canadian officials on board, but I am confident it will prove worth the wait,” Schumer said. “The pilot program … if it’s successful could lead to its permanence and the relocation of all truck inspections to Ontario. In the short and long term, I am confident that Western New York commuters will see a change in traffic congestion, local businesses will notice an improved flow of products and economic activity, and the entire community will benefit as Western New York tears down the ‘stop’ sign at our border.”

He added that moving the cargo pre-screening process to the Canadian side of the border will mean that any new Peace Bridge plaza on the American side will have greater flexibility during the design process.

“A more efficient pre-inspection process in Canada will result in fewer delays for truckers carrying goods into the U.S.,” Schumer noted. “It would greatly improve commerce between businesses on both sides of the border. Currently, 100% of all trucks must go through a congested screening process on the American side of the border, as that congestion builds it has an adverse impact on air quality and commerce and backs up traffic across the bridge and into Canada. After the pre-inspection pilot program gets underway, 90% would be fully cleared on the Canadian side, with approximately 10% requiring additional screening in the U.S.”

He stressed, however, that “suspicious vehicles” entering the U.S. will still be flagged as they come onto American soil, and made to undergo additional screening at the U.S. Port of Entry before entry could be permitted.

It’s also worth noting that southern border crossing points between Mexico and the U.S. are not being ignored during all of this.

Indeed, as part of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget appropriation, Congress allocated $61.6 million for the expansion and modernization of two of the four ports of entry (POE) at Laredo, TX, with construction plans including the modernization of Laredo Bridge 1, the Convent Avenue POE, as well as the construction of a new automobile and bus inspection facility at Laredo Bridge 2, the Juárez-Lincoln POE.

Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), noted in a statement last year that the Laredo port currently struggles with traffic congestion and is in critical need of additional space and modern updates.

“The project is expected to significantly ease pedestrian and vehicle traffic as well as upgrade the functionality of the facility to better assist DHS in fulfilling its mission of keeping America’s borders safe and secure,” he said. “One of {DHS’s] top priorities is to strengthen our border security while facilitating the lawful trade and travel essential to our economy.”

Those construction projects, by the way, are expected to be completed by July 2017.

Just goes to show that more attention is going to paid in the coming years to truck cargo screening efforts along both of America’s land borders.

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