Imagine clearing Canadian customs in Florida, Arizona, or Chicago, or
having a U.S. customs facility attached to a car plant in Ontario, with
the goal of helping people and cargo travel faster between the
The Canadian and American governments are discussing it.
They have begun talking about expanding pre-clearance — with plans to
discuss potential sites for the first-ever Canadian customs facilities
inside the U.S., and the longer-term goal of applying it to commercial
"You've got an administration on the American side and certainly on
our side, that really want to move these files," Public Safety Minister
Ralph Goodale said Monday, after his first face-to-face meeting with his
new U.S. counterpart — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Preclearance has a long history.
It began decades ago with U.S. border facilities in major Canadian
airports — allowing people to clear customs at home, avoid logjams in
U.S. hubs and fly directly into U.S. airports that don't have customs
The electronic Canada customs area inside the
new international terminal before its inauguration, Thursday, November
16, 2017 at the Jean-Lesage international airport in Quebec City.
(Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
A few years ago the Harper and Obama governments agreed to new rules
allowing the practice in every mode of transport — rail, cars, buses and
ships. The Trudeau Liberals approved pilot projects at rail stations in
Montreal and B.C.
Now, with the Trump administration, the countries are working on two
future phases. Goodale said he already began discussing a first phase
with Nielsen's predecessor, installing Canadian facilities inside the
"John Kelly and I had a conversation about, 'Where would we start?'
He thought Boston, his hometown. Some Canadians suggested either Fort
Lauderdale, (Fla.), or Scottsdale (Ariz.), the (places with) snowbird
traffic in the winter," Goodale said in an interview.
"Midwesterners would say Chicago. ... Or somewhere in the American
northeast," he said noting that Canadian ski resorts would appreciate
quicker access for American travellers. "There are lots of ideas."
But the bigger long-term goal involves cargo.
The countries have agreed to meet this spring to develop a plan on
what regulatory changes might be required to introduce pre-clearance for
cargo beyond a pair of previous pilot projects.
Then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson,
left, and Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Steven Blaney smile during a ceremony in Washington, Monday, March 16,
2015, to sign a pre-clearance agreement as part of the Beyond the Border
Initiative. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)
Goodale said he envisions a future where cars can have their
components screened and sealed for shipment right inside the plant.
Given that a car under construction might cross the border a half-dozen
times, he said that would avoid snags and boost productivity.
"The real prize of pre-clearance is when we could expand it from passenger to cargo," Goodale said.
He said he left the first meeting with Nielsen feeling positive.
"Really good meeting," he said. "You wonder in the first encounter:
Will there be a list of complaints or grievances? No. There's a list of
important issues we're working on together... It's a really good,
constructive, international to-do agenda."
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