Canada, U.S. hoping for progress on border preclearance for Monday meeting

Trump, Trudeau to talk border on Monday

OTTAWA — Canada hopes to cement progress on keeping the border open to trade and travellers when Justin Trudeau visits Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump, whose controversial travel ban measures recently created considerable confusion at the 49th parallel.

The two countries have been pecking away for years at a list of items intended to bolster continental security while ensuring the speedy flow of goods and people across the border.

During his first year in office, Trudeau built on the efforts of predecessor Stephen Harper to implement programs set out in the December 2011 Beyond the Border agreement forged by Ottawa and Washington.

The new U.S. president’s strong emphasis on homeland security and extreme vetting of newcomers — spelled out in an executive order on immigration — caught many in Canada off guard and resulted in the cancellation of about 200 Nexus trusted-traveller cards held by Canadian permanent residents.

The cards have since been reinstated, but the outcome remains unclear pending court decisions.

Canada is expected to seek assurances from the U.S. on a willingness to work together in a way that avoids such unpleasant hiccups, and keeps mutual projects on track, in the months and years ahead.

“We’re going to talk about all sorts of things we align on, like jobs and economic growth, opportunities for the middle class — the fact that millions of good jobs on both sides of our border depend on the smooth flow of goods and services across that border,” Trudeau said Friday.  

“We’re also, I’m sure, going to talk about things … we disagree on, and we’ll do it in a respectful way.”

Multiple sources in Ottawa and Washington say the Trudeau government wants to make early progress on key files. The overall goal: to carve an early path and get the two countries moving on trade priorities.

Both sides announced last March they would proceed with customs preclearance initiatives aimed at making border processing easier for low-risk travellers. Canada is keen to come away from Monday’s visit with confirmation of those plans.

The preclearance arrangements would increase the American customs presence on Canadian soil and are expected to see Canada eventually establish similar operations in the United States.

Currently, passengers flying to American cities through eight major Canadian airports can be precleared there by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

Preclearance would be expanded to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport, as well as for rail service in Montreal and Vancouver.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said that during her recent meetings in Washington she stressed making trade easier with Canada, including extending preclearance for product shipments.

“Our conversations focused on ways to make that border thinner,” she said.

“We talked about preclearance for cargo as an area that we might want to be working on, going forward.”

Scott Reid, a former official who worked in the Prime Minister’s Office of Paul Martin, called such a strategy unsurprising and logical. The last thing Canada wants is its fundamental foreign relationship vulnerable to the improvised whims of a uniquely unpredictable president.

“There’s no question that the less predictable the personal relationship will be â€” because the president is new and, frankly, unlike any other president who’s ever held the office â€” then by definition your obvious protection against all of that, your protection against caprice, is process,” Reid said.

“It’s process that’s moving. And that’s got its own momentum. So that you sit down and say, ‘Well, we’ve got the tracks laid down here to help move along on three issues.’

“You want to create a momentum that builds and sustains itself, almost.”

— With files from Alexander Panetta in Washington

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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