As Americans look to the future after the September 11th terrorist attacks on their nation, it should come as no surprise that there are calls for essentially building a wall around their country to keep out terrorists. Security has been tightened at border crossings, creating long lineups and delays for people and goods entering the United States and Canada. In turn, the long lineups produce slowdowns in an already slowing economy in Canada and the States. With so much of our economy integrated with the States, the future impact on our employment, income and standard of living could be devastating. After all, the US is our largest trading partner and trade is about 45% of our GDP.
For the Canadian Chamber of Commerce there is one solution to this threat, and that is to develop an open border with the United States within the context of a secure North American perimeter. Our economy and our very way of life depend on it.
The way to guarantee an open border is to demonstrate to Americans that we take seriously their concern for security. We must demonstrate this quickly and decisively. Together, we must make all of North America safe from terrorism. Whether or not terrorists entered the US via Canada is a moot point. What really matters is that Americans think that our border with them is part of the problem. We only have to listen to the words of US Attorney General John Ashcroft when he talks about the Canadian border being part of their security problem. We must take heed. After all, perception is reality--especially at a time such as now when reaction, and even overreaction, has become the norm.
Make no mistake--the US will move to make their borders impenetrable to any possible security threat. What has often been described as the longest undefended border in the world is about to change, dramatically. This is a natural reaction considering what Americans have been through. We share a continent with the United States. By definition, their problems are our problems. We are in this together and the solutions must be worked out together.
But where will Canada be when the fence goes up? We had better be on the inside. If not, there are grave consequences for our economy and our country. The border will be more than just an inconvenience to travellers. It will do more than just create slower delivery times for goods. Cross-border economic activity will falter.
Why? Because most businesses use just in time delivery systems for production. For companies with a border in the middle of a production line, efficiency is vital. If delays increase, so will costs. This will reduce the competitiveness of Canadian goods. It could mean a loss of current facilities because companies that cannot get their goods across the border efficiently may relocate to the US. It will definitely mean a loss of future investment; something our members tell us is already starting to happen. Companies will want to avoid making transborder shipments of products and supplies if they cannot be assured that the border will be easily bridged. For Canada, the border must be a strategic imperative.
Not all is doom and gloom. This is exactly the time for the federal government to demonstrate to Americans that we appreciate their security concerns. After all, their security is also our security--we do not stand apart. This is also exactly the time to fully commit to working with our neighbours to find common solutions. Ideally, we could have a border that is even more seamless than we had before the events of September 11th.
The border congestion experienced immediately after the terrorist attacks has been reduced. In the short term, both Canada and the United States directed the resources necessary to keep commerce moving--this is very welcome. But, what comes next? Clearly, it is no longer business as usual.
Canada must act quickly, decisively and strategically. Now, more than ever, is the time for our government to work with the United States to secure the North American perimeter and to create an environment of certainty for all North Americans, businesses and citizens alike. Our economy depends on it. It would also make all Canadians that much more certain about our own safety and security.
Nancy Hughes Anthony
President and CEO
Canadian Chamber of Commerce