WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Canadian and U.S. officials are squaring off over how to improve border security without putting the brakes on $1.3 billion in trade each day, a battle complicated by disagreements within the Bush administration, government sources tell United Press International.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the two sides have clashed over efforts by the Bush administration to impose new security controls. Canadian and U.S. officials have publicly crossed swords over controlling truck cargo.
In Washington, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Immigration and Naturalization Service officials apparently have different views on tracking the passage of Canadians across the border.
Historic allies, Canada and the United States agreed in December to a plan for a "secure and smart border" both U.S. and Canadian officials said would protect against terrorist attacks while facilitating this vital stream of trade. Seventy percent of the trade with Canada is truck-borne, with a truck crossing the border every three seconds in a stream of 200,000 vehicles each day.
The essence of that agreement was that the United States and Canada would devise ways to identify regular, unthreatening traffic in people and cargo and separate it from unknown or questionable goods and individuals. The idea was backed by Ridge and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley.
But talks to implement that agreement have become difficult, people involved with the talks on both sides of the border said.
"The talks now look mired in the ground," said David Bradley, chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents 4,000 trucking companies. Bradley said some parts of the American government "want an inspector to check every truck. That just won't work."
On Feb. 1, just before Ridge and Manley were to meet at a World Trade Forum meeting in New York, U.S. Commissioner of Customs Robert C. Bonner was quoted in The New York Times as saying "We're looking at increased security against terrorists at the border. I don't think Canadians are looking at it the same way."
"There are at least a certain number of al Qaida terrorists in Canada," he said. "One of them could get a job at one of these (Canadian manufacturing) plants and then you may have nuclear material inserted in that truck."
Bonner's remarks reverberated across Canada in front-page news from Vancouver to Nova Scotia.
On Feb. 2, as he left to meet with Ridge, Manley told reporters he would not bow to U.S. pressure. "It's not a matter of satisfying the Americans," he said, "it's a matter of satisfying ourselves," pointing out how vital this trade was to Canada. But he admitted there had been a "push-back by the Americans," as they had assessed their security needs.
"I think what you are seeing happen is that our government is absolutely saying to the Americans that we appreciate the security issues, but we have got to make sure this two-way trade is not impeded," said Bob Keyes, senior vice president international for the Canada Chamber of Commerce.
Customs is a Treasury Department agency, and Ridge is known to have clashed with Attorney General John Ashcroft on security issues. The Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol are under Ashcroft's control.
When Ridge and Manley met Feb. 2 at the World Economic Forum in New York, Manley pressured Ridge about President Bush's plans to track the flow of individuals back and forth, according to Ridge.
Bush has proposed spending $380 million next year to establish a high-tech system that would track people entering and exiting the United States. Bush has said he wants that system in place by 2004.
In their meeting, Manley pressed Ridge to make sure the new system would not apply to Canadians.
Manley said after the meeting that he took "the opportunity to encourage Governor Ridge to ensure that a northern lens was applied to any new provisions that were adopted so that we could be confident that we didn't create unexpected difficulties for the Canada-U.S. border, which is very much in both of our interests to ensure that it works well."
Ridge agreed to Manley's demands that the new, high-tech system proposed in the Bush budget would not apply to the millions of trips by Canadians crossing the 4,000-mile border into the United States.
"I assured him that we understand we've got a very unique relationship with them," Ridge said. "I think this is geared -- this is not geared to Canada, but basically the balance of the world."
INS officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, however, the system will definitely apply to Canadians eventually.
INS spokeswoman Kimberly Weissman said publicly the entry and exit system was a "sensitive issue."
"It really is in the development phases," Weissman said. "We need to be sensitive to our Canadian neighbors, but we need to be sensitive to our security issues."
On the truck issue, one administration source told UPI that Bonner's remarks will stand and that no one will rebuke him. Another administration source said Ridge is having "turf battles" with several agencies as he tries to put together a homeland security plan.
Canadians like Bradley believe U.S. Customs is unwilling to accept electronic systems that would pre-certify trucks from major shippers and their drivers.
But an official of an American trucking trade group, who asked not to be quoted by name, said U.S. Customs is not technologically prepared to adopt these new systems, and it could be a long time before they are. He said delays of 45 minutes and an hour are still being felt on the Windsor Detroit crossing point.
Bush late last month announced he would seek $10.7 billion for border security, in part to set up the electronic system to accurately track the arrival and departure of "non-U.S. citizens," according to the White House. Congress first tried to establish a similar system in a 1996 law, but backed off years later.
Around 75 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the border, and Canada is the leading trading partner for 38 of the 50 states, according to the Canada Chamber of Commerce. But 50 known terrorist organizations are operating in Canada, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has said.
Ridge's announcement that the entry-and-exit system would not apply to Canadians opens an obviously gaping security loophole and shows that the administration's much-touted border security measures might be rendered meaningless as negotiations continue, critics said. Congress is also poised to pass a bill calling for "biometric" visas and passports that will attach a travelers physical characteristics and his identity. That bill also would not apply to Canadian citizens.
"The White House and Congress are dodging the toughest issue in border security, which is what we do about Canada," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates immigration limits. "Having a little bit of border security is like being a little bit pregnant."