The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) says an agreement between the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is a big step towards realizing one of the key outcomes of the Beyond the Border (BTB) Action Plan – the restoration of carriers’ ability to conduct in-transit movements of Canadian domestic shipments through the United States.
It was revealed earlier this week the two agencies had reached a harmonization agreement on the data required for domestic goods transiting through the other country. Under the Action Plan, the two countries agreed to develop by June 2012 “common sets of data elements required for … domestic shipments which transit through the other country,” with implementation by December 2013.
“This data harmonization agreement is an overdue but extremely important development,” says David Bradley, CTA’s president and CEO.
However, CTA is not claiming victory just yet. Implementation could be delayed if the customs agencies require both countries’ systems to be able to accept each other’s information electronically, something the Alliance has been told could take years.
Consequently, CTA is proposing the introduction of interim measures – e.g., a pilot project or trial – which would utilize the harmonized data set and allow for resumption of in-transit truck shipments at least on a limited basis.
“It would be a shame to see the true benefit of the agreement – the resumption of in-transit movements – delayed indefinitely over systems issues,” says Bradley. “The agreement demonstrates a commitment by both CBSA and CBP to move forward, so we are hopeful they will be receptive to exploring interim measures to accommodate in-transit shipments.”
For many years, instead of moving domestic shipments (e.g., Toronto-Calgary) across the top of the lake head, it had been common practice for Canadian carriers to transit through the United States on safer, multi-lane divided highways to avoid inclement weather, reduce wear and tear on vehicles, improve fuel efficiency, and provide drivers with more access to rest areas. Since the goods were not entering the U.S. for consumption or being offloaded or stored, they could enter with minimal documentation. At the same time, many U.S. domestic shipments (e.g., mail entering Canada at Buffalo, re-entering the U.S. at Detroit) also move in-transit through Canada.
However, U.S. policy changed in the aftermath of 9/11 to classify in-transit shipments as international loads, subject to full documentation and advanced e-manifest submission to CBP. This effectively ended in-transit shipments through the United States for Canadian carriers. (Canada did not follow suit, which created an uneven playing field where U.S. domestic shipments could still move in-transit through Canada while Canadian domestic shipments were denied similar access to the United States).
The restoration of in-transit shipments is one of two key measures CTA has been championing since before the BTB process. The other, which also has the support of the American Trucking Associations and business groups on both sides of the border, is relaxing the restrictions on foreign drivers from repositioning their own empty trailers.
“The current rules which determine when a foreign carrier can use one of its drivers to reposition its own empty trailers in the other country are inconsistent, inefficient and incompatible with modern logistics practices,” says Bradley.