Have you ever found yourself cheering for the referees? Not applauding a good call, but standing up and shouting in support of what they're doing during the game?
Probably not. It isn't normal. And yet that is what I feel like doing after a weekend spent reviewing the U.S.-Canada Beyond the Border Working Group and implementation progress reports on the Regulatory Cooperation Council, each of which was released late Friday.
Here's why: in the first year, despite the distractions posed by the 2012 elections and a series of U.S. budget battles, the governments of Canada and the United States have made a strong start on improving border and regulatory cooperation.
They have accomplished some tangible upgrades in service for citizens and businesses in both countries, and have kept (mostly) to the ambitious schedules for delivering progress that they set for themselves in the Beyond the Border and Regulatory Cooperation Council Action Plans issued a year ago.
Think of the U.S.-Canada economic relationship as a hockey game (remember hockey? Sigh.) Normally, players skate back and forth, competing for the puck. Except that in this game, there are two problems.
First, the officials call penalties according to different rules depending on which end of the ice it is: what one ref calls offsides, another considers fair; high-sticking is also judged differently. The differences are minor, but confusing and cause hesitation in players who as a result can't play at their best.
Second, in this arena there is a set of fixed barriers at centre ice that force players crossing back and forth dodge obstacles (and not just opposing players). The game is slower and a lot less fun.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama established the Regulatory Cooperation Council so that the officials calling the game work from the same rule book, with the same definitions and standards -- not to eliminate the rules, but to enhance the game. They set up the Beyond the Border Working Group to eliminate the obstacles security measures place to legitimate goods and travelers who need to get across "centre ice" to compete.
Neither the Beyond the Border Working Group nor the Regulatory Cooperation Council is the kind of initiative that is likely to earn a lot of applause for Harper or Obama, much less for the officials working on it behind the scenes. That's because sorting out regulations and inspection differences is hard work and will take a long time. And most of the "fans" -- citizens like us -- come to watch the game and not to cheer the refs. When the game is well-officiated we hardly notice the refs, let alone give them credit. After all, most calls come down to common sense!
That's why I want to give two cheers for the officials: one cheer for undertaking these initiatives to promote better coordination on border security and economic regulation, and another for a solid year of progress on both fronts despite many distractions.
There is a lot of work to do still. Yet I'm hopeful that U.S. and Canadian officials will earn three cheers soon, from me and other observers, when they accomplish more. There are a number of pilot projects and agreements on data sharing that hold the promise of real gains in the months ahead.
Even then, it isn't only cheering for the refs - I'll be cheering for the love of the game. At least until the NHL players and owners can work out a deal, it is the only game worth watching.
Canada and the U.S. are each other's largest trading partners. More than $1.5-billion in goods cross the border each day. The "Action Plan on Perimeter Security and Economic Competiveness" is a road map, not a formal agreement, aimed at making trade and travel across the border easier and more efficient. <blockquote>The plan focuses on four key areas. 1. Addressing threats early 2. Trade and economic growth 3. Building on existing border enforcement programs 4. Emergency and cyber infrastructure</blockquote>
Canada and the U.S. will be making a number of changes aimed at addressing security threats as early as possible and reducing the impact on trade and travel. The two countries will: <blockquote>1. Begin tracking and recording entry and exit of travellers across the border and verifying the identity of foreigners for the purposes of immigration decision making. 2. Begin conducting joint threat assessments and sharing core information. 3. Working together on developing best practices to counter threats from violent extremists. 4. Begin aligning ground- and air-cargo security to reduce the need for re-screening. Canadian travellers will no longer have their bags screened twice when transferring flights in the United States.</blockquote>
Canada and the U.S. will be making a number of changes aimed at facilitating trade and economic growth <blockquote>The two countries will: 1. Expand programs for low-risk travellers, such as NEXUS, to make border crossing more efficient. 2. Upgrade infrastructure at key crossings to ease congestion. 3. Begin using radio frequency identification technology to read documents automatically as vehicles approach the border. 4. Create a unified approach for preclearing goods crossing by rail, sea or road. 5. Set up a single window for companies to send required info only once. 6. Make it easier for low-value shipments to clear customs </blockquote>
Canada and the U.S. will make a number of changes to existing border enforcement programs. <blockquote>The two countries will: 1. Make Shiprider a permanent program. The Shiprider program allows U.S. and Canadian maritime law enforcement officials to operate independent of the border to help combat crime. 2. Begin testing the Shiprider model for land enforcement. This means Canadian officials may work on the U.S. side of the border and vice versa. 3. Begin using voice-over-Internet technology so law enforcement officials can communicate across the border with greater ease. </blockquote>
Canada and the U.S. will be making a number of changes aimed at enhancing emergency and cyber infrastructure. <blockquote>The two countries will: 1. Work together more closely on international cyber-security efforts. 2. Enhance joint readiness for health, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear events. 3. Jointly develop strategies for managing traffic on the border in the event of an emergency. </blockquote>
Both governments are stressing the all the initiatives in the plan were developed under two principles. <blockquote>1. That each nation has the right to act independent of the other in accordance with their own laws and interests. 2. That both countries will endeavour to promote human rights, privacy, the rule of law and civil liberties.</blockquote>
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