Canada-U.S. border deal seen far from certain

Mon Feb 7, 2011 1:15pm EST
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By Randall Palmer and Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Swift action is needed to put meat on the bones of a framework border-security agreement announced by President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canadian business analysts said on Monday.

But whether a final agreement on a "perimeter" security plan will ever be reached remains an open question, at least in Canada, where tightening ties with the United States has always been a sensitive issue.

Friday's announcement at the White House envisages creating a more unified and stronger security at the North American perimeter, while making it easier to trade and travel between the two countries, inside that perimeter.

The problem for North American business involves longer waits at the border and also the high cost of compliance with security regulations enacted after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"It's not only how many minutes it takes to cross the border but it's all this compliance burden and data reporting before the truck even leaves the warehouse to get to the border," said Birgit Matthiesen, U.S. specialist for the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters lobby group.

She said "the time was more than ripe" for relief because of a rising Canadian dollar and competition from what she called a tsunami of imports from Asia. The two countries have traditionally enjoyed the world's largest trading relationship, worth well over $1 billion a day.

Obama and Harper agreed to set up a working group that would report to them "in the coming months" and then again on an annual basis.

But Harper, who leads a minority Conservative government, could face an election at any time and these negotiations could well figure prominently in the campaign.   Continued...