Many trucking companies in Northern Ontario are getting their deliveries past U.S. customs more quickly through a joint Canada-U.S. program designed to make the border safer since 9/11.
The problem, however, is that many northern companies have still not signed on, says an official with a major association representing the trucking industry.
"Trucking companies that are signed up with the FAST program tend to get through customs quicker because they are already designated as low-risk shippers," says Stephen Laskowski, assistant vice-president with the Ontario Trucking Association.
The FAST program, which stands for Free and Secure Trade, is a bilateral initiative between Canada and the United States that started last year.
The program attempts as much as possible to harmonize commercial processes between both countries in order to assist commercial shippers in getting their goods across the border. The program is based upon drivers and shippers getting their information electronically in advance of their arrival at the border.
It involves the importer, the carrier and the commercial driver presenting information well in advance of transportation. All of the parties' information is checked out with the FBI, the RCMP, security intelligence, Immigration and all other relevant government agencies. As well, transport drivers are required to appear in person for an interview, after which, if they clear, they get a FAST driver card.
Trucking companies in the North say they are already seeing some of the benefits.
"So far, the delays have been minimal. If you prepare yourself before your arrival, there are fewer inspections," says Kevin Gill, the manager of international service for Manitoulin Transport, a Gore Bay-based commercial trucking company that transports goods all over North America.
Gill says that most of the delays come when a company arrives without any information about themselves and unannounced.
With FAST, border services officers know who the driver is, what the goods they have, and where they are going well in advance of their arrival. There exists a greater chance of being pulled over in a random search if the inspectors do not know who the person is and what they are carrying, he contends. This usually means that such a truck can get past the X-ray and heat-sensor machines.
Rosane Parent is the general manager of MuRo Transport, a smaller trucking company located outside Kapuskasing.
She says she has been able to avoid lengthy delays because she uses the Sault Ste. Marie border crossing. The crossing, she says, receives much less traffic than larger points of entry in southern Ontario.
She says that she sent a driver through the Sarnia-Port Huron border at one point during the summer because the delivery was closer to that border. Her driver, she says, had to wait seven hours at the border.
MuRo is not involved in the FAST program and, according to U.S. customs, the Sarnia border has a dedicated lane for FAST-certified trucks. So far, she says, quick entry at Sault Ste. Marie means that MuRo Transport is in no hurry to get certified with FAST. She also says she will stick with the Sault point of entry in the future, even if the delivery is closer to other points.
"I might as well spend the extra $50 to $75 for fuel and salary for the driver and spare the heartache," Parent says.
Some of the major trucking associations, however, say that all Northern Ontario trucking companies should come on board.
Laskowski cautions that Northern Ontario companies that do not come aboard risk being left behind by much more extensive security screening at the border.
The U.S. government announced the introduction of a much more rigorous and uniform system that will bring together all commercial data on all products delivered into the United States. The program, Automated Commercial Environment, will eventually erase previous commercial database programs.