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February 03, 2011

US, Canada Announce New Joint Border Effort

by Dan Robinson

President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have announced a new joint effort to streamline cross-border trade they say will help both economies and enhance security.  

The new initiative is aimed at strengthening security along the border, increasing coordination and sharing of intelligence, and harmonizing regulations on the flow of food and manufactured goods.

Referred to as the North American security "perimeter," it involves use of advanced biometric technology to track travelers, and steps to eliminate burdensome regulatory barriers that Obama said can stifle trade and job creation.

Saying the goal is smarter border management, Obama said it's aimed at creating jobs and increasing economic growth on both sides of a border that sees more than $1 billion worth of trade crossing it each day.

"Working more closely to improve border security with better screening, new technologies and information sharing among law enforcement, as well as identifying threats early. It also means finding new ways to improve the free flow of goods and people," Obama said.

Joint border efforts have been controversial in Canada where Harper's government has faced criticism from the political opposition that Canadian sovereignty and privacy would be sacrificed.

The U.S. - Canada declaration includes a goal of an integrated entry-exit system, and enhanced cooperation to identify, prevent and counter violent extremism. It also pledges to create "joint privacy protection principles" and efforts to "promote principles of human rights, privacy and civil liberties."

Saying Canada and the U.S. share fundamental interests and values, and common challenges and threats, Harper said it is in both countries' interest to ensure that the border remains open and efficient, but also secure.

Harper responded this way to a Canadian reporter asking about criticism of the agreement in Canada.

"We are sovereign countries who have the capacity to act as we choose to act. The question that faces us is to make sure we act in a sovereign way that serves Canada's interest. It is in Canada's interest to work with our partners in the United States to ensure that our borders are secure, and ensure that we can trade and travel across them as safely and as openly as possible within the context of our different laws and that is what we are trying to achieve here," he said.

The U.S. and Canada signed a free trade agreement in 1988 aimed at removing barriers to free trade.  Since then, Harper noted, both countries have become each other's largest export market, with eight million U.S. jobs supported by trade with Canada.

Meanwhile, the White House on Friday put a positive spin on the latest U.S. government report on unemployment, which had good news with the jobless figure falling to 9 percent in the month of January.   

But overall the economy created only 36,000 jobs, far fewer than needed for sustained reductions in unemployment, and less than a quarter of what is required to keep pace with population growth.

Gene Sperling, who heads the president's National Economic Council, said that private sector payrolls increased by 50,000 and he pointed to "strong progress" in job creation in the manufacturing sector, which he attributed to President Obama's policies. "We do see in the manufacturing area and the places the president will be traveling, some good news and I think with some significant relation to the policies the president has implemented and proposed," he said.

The White House announced that Obama will travel next week, to Marquette, Michigan, to underscore the importance of an initiative mentioned in his State of the Union Address, an effort to make broadband wireless available to 80 percent of Americans in coming years.

The administration also formally rolled out what it calls "A Strategy for American Innovation," tied to  Obama's goal of making the United States competitive with other countries and creating jobs.