Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Canada's Economy in Motion

Welcome to gun-toting Canada, eh ? It is a very welcome news of these days that Canadian senators want to see the face at the Canadian border look more like the U.S. counterpart: armed and focused on people instead of goods. In a June report entitled "Borderline Insecure" the Canadian Senate Committee on National Security and Defense recommends that Canada "change the entire culture at border crossings". Under pressure from U.S. politicians and the White House Administration, furthermore, the Committee recommends that Canada adopt a border image very much like the American.
The Committee has spent the last three years looking at security on the immense US/Canada border and has found it lacking on the Canadian side. "With good border security" proclaims the Committee in the report "we can protect our own country as well as be a good neighbor to a country that is vitally important to Canadians, politically and economically". But here is the really good economic news for which the Committee, in my views, must be praised. The report contains 26 recommendations necessary to ensure Canada's economic future, national security and smooth political relations with Washington. One of the top three is to significantly raise the personal exemption limit to allow cross-border shoppers to bring back more into Canada without paying duty. The Committee sustains that there should be "far less emphasis" on the collection of duties and taxes at border checkpoints since this takes valuable time away from inspectors to focus on their security responsibilities.
The Senate Committee recommendation is to restructure personal exemption limits to match American limits at first, and then raise them. "Large corporations have clearly benefited from free trade. Retailers and consumers in general should be provided with increasing opportunities to share the benefits" it states. Today American consumers can bring home US $200 in goods every trip across the border and can return to the U.S. with U.S. $800 after a trip lasting longer than 24 hours. For Canadians, on the other hand, there is no personal exemption under 24 hours and it's only CAD $50 for trips between 24 to 48 hours long, going up to CAD $750 after a week absence from Canada. The report recommends that the exemption limits be raised to the same level as the U.S. by 2007 and that the Canadian Border Services work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to raise the limit to the equivalent of U.S. $2,000 per person per trip on both sides by 2010 ! Personally I think this is such a great news destined - if approved - to spur Canada's economy so much that the Committee deserves a warm round of applause.
On a different matter, the report further concludes that Canadian border inspectors also lack the tools needed to confront security threats when they find them. The Committee suggests that our inspectors should be armed, just like their American counterparts. "While the inspectors routinely encounter persons in possession of firearms, they themselves are armed only with batons and pepper spray" the report states, claiming moreover that in many sectors of the border backup from local police or the RCMP is "either slow or non-existent". Finally, to counter international terrorism (and appease Washington), the report recommends following the U.S. footsteps by meeting up with American requirements for everyone to carry identification that is "machine readable, tamperproof, biometrically enhanced and known to have been issued on the basis of reliable documentation" by 2007.
Luigi Frascati

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