A year after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., securing border crossings without constricting trade has been an ongoing challenge. However, President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced a border plan Monday at the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, aimed at increasing security while speeding the flow of commerce at key crossings.
The Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program will allow U.S. and Canadian companies to register their goods, trucks and drivers with the governments ahead of time. As of December, at Detroit and five other crossings, trucks will be able to cross through special lanes, their information instantly verified by computer.
"FAST will enable U.S. and Canadian motor carriers to move freight more efficiently between our two countries while continuing to maintain the necessary high level of security at our shared border," said William Canary, president of the American Trucking Assns.
About 70% of border traffic between the two countries – or more than $1 billion a day in goods and services – uses six major crossings, and the plan advocates improving infrastructure and finding new technology to relieve congestion.
At the Ambassador Bridge, which links Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, three commercial traffic inspection lanes for use by the U.S. Customs Service were added last week, though they are being used on a limited basis. Dan Stamper, president of the Bridge's administration, said those lanes have been outfitted with temporary inspection booths and will increase processing capacity by a full 50%.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest international border crossing in North America and a critical trade corridor, feeding Michigan's auto industry and serving as a channel for 27% of all merchandise trade between the U.S. and Canada.
To streamline the current process, FAST combines intensive pre-clearance paperwork with wireless radio frequency transponders that send electronic information to Customs agents regarding the type of cargo trucks are carrying, where it came from, where it is going and who is driving. FAST evolved from earlier programs for importers and carriers who participated in the Customs – Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). Prior to September 11, the primary goal was to enhance the flow of travelers and goods.
Working with Hummelstown, PA-based transportation service company TransCore, U.S. Customs deployed the North American Trade Automation Prototype (NATAP) system on the Ambassador Bridge in 1997. The system uses windshield-mounted radio frequency identification (RFID) transponders in commercial vehicles and a roadside reader for automatic vehicle identification (AVI).
Individual trucks were crosschecked against the U.S. Government's NATAP database to determine if import and export documents were in order. This allowed pre-processing of compliant, low-risk commercial vehicles and cargo that were signaled to pass with a traffic light. High-risk, non-compliant vehicles and cargo were directed to secondary examination for closer inspection.
In 1999, TransCore worked with the U.S. Customs Service to convert the NATAP system for use with the National Customs Automation Program (NCAP). Initially, the system helped the Big Three automakers implement just-in-time deliveries of supplies and finished product from Canada. Today, the FAST program will insure that the same automakers and frequent cargo carriers that implemented just-in-time shipping will continue to function in this new era of heightened border security.