Border delays loom

A U.S. Customs Service plan that would have forced carriers to give four hours' notice before crossing from Canada into the U.S. was abruptly tabled after carriers, automakers and others complained that it would have jeopardized just-in-time deliveries, especially to the Big Three automakers in Detroit. In many cases, some of the $65.8 million worth of components crossing daily are ordered for delivery

A U.S. Customs Service plan that would have forced carriers to give four hours' notice before crossing from Canada into the U.S. was abruptly tabled after carriers, automakers and others complained that it would have jeopardized just-in-time deliveries, especially to the Big Three automakers in Detroit. In many cases, some of the $65.8 million worth of components crossing daily are ordered for delivery in less than two hours.

“The four-hour notification would have shut down the just-in-time business,” says Elly Meister, vice president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), which represents about 4,000 motor carriers belonging to seven provincial trucking associations. She notes that Canada-U.S. trade amounts to $263 billion annually, and that trucks move about 70% of all cargo. At presstime, the new number of hours for notification had not been decided, but could be as low as one hour, observers suggest.

Meister says that other issues that would have slowed or stopped trans-border trucking trade are being worked out. For example, the U.S. Safe Explosives Act would have prohibited Canadian drivers from hauling explosives to or from the U. S. beginning on January 24, but a 30-day grace period will allow Canadian resident drivers to continue transporting explosives across the border if the carrier, shipper and driver are on an “approved” list. This is only a temporary solution, however; a permanent fix must be found.

Another issue of concern to fleets is a proposal that foreign facilities shipping food and beverages to the U.S. register with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and provide pre-notification of imports. Carriers are concerned that truckers could be stranded at the border if a shipper does not adhere to these rules. The FDA makes the case that registration is key to investigating and quickly stopping contaminated food or drugs.

Trucking is not the only mode of transportation subject to pre-notification under the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) proposed by U.S. Customs. Under ACE, all carriers — maritime, rail and trucking — would have 90 days to establish an electronic connection to each port of entry so they can transmit manifests before cargo arrival.

The Free and Secure Trade (FAST) system and its southern border equivalent, the Southern Border Cargo Release Strategy, both used by trucks, will eventually be folded into ACE. In the meantime, expedited passage will be given to carriers who process cargo through the Pre-Arrival Processing System (PAPS) and employ pre-approved drivers that are transporting shipments from importers designated as Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT).

Under the proposal, air couriers would need to submit a manifest eight hours before loading, railways would give 12 hours' notice and marine carriers would be subject to a 24-hour notification deadline. In addition, phrases such as “freight of all kinds,” “general merchandise,” and “said to contain” would no longer be allowed to describe container contents. Descriptions must be exact.

In fact, beginning February 2, U.S. Customs began issuing “do-not-load” messages to marine carriers that had failed to submit notices 24 hours in advance. The effect on truck carriers picking up these containers is expected to be minimal.

As the responsibilities of the Dept. of Homeland Security become clearer, and as security-related provisions of the Trade Act of 2002 and other laws come into play, we can expect to see more glitches and holdups at the borders and throughout the intermodal supply chain. “Often, we don't know what's in the law or how it will be applied until we bring it up to the feds,” says one industry official.

CTA's Meister adds that a reading of the law discovered that Canadian drivers might not be eligible for the national transportation ID card proposed by the Transportation Security Administration. The card would be needed to enter ports, rail yards and other transportation facilities. “We're hoping we can expand the reciprocity we have under the FAST program for Canadian drivers,” says Meister.

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