Cablegate: Border Issues Figure Prominently in Regional Summit

R 291855Z JUL 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: The flow of people and goods across the U.S.-Canada
border became the primary topic of discussion at the annual
Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) summit, July 20-24.
Several keynote speakers, including U.S. Ambassador Wilkins, BC
Premier Campbell, and Canadian Public Safety Minister Day, and
numerous roundtables and seminars, looked at ways to improve
border processing, particularly in regards to the upcoming 2010
Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. U.S. initiatives were
well-received while local British Columbia officials publicly
criticized the Canadian Border Services Administration (CBSA)
for not taking enough action. The summit also highlighted
regional concerns and actions on energy, environment and climate
change, and the Asia-Pacific Gateway. End Summary.

Border Restricting Trade and Travel

2. Vancouver played host to the 18th Annual PNWER Summit,
bringing together over 800 state/provincial officials, NGOs and
business leaders from BC, Alberta, Yukon, Saskatchewan,
Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. Sessions and
speakers focused on a wide range of topics affecting the region
but the most prominent issue was border management. BC, as host
of the summit and host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, steered the
summit with numerous keynotes and individual sessions looking at
what was repeatedly described as a "thickening border," a trend
blamed for decreased tourism and substantially increased customs
clearance time for commercial traffic, all leading to lost
revenue. Officials from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) anchored the first of
six border sessions, providing detailed descriptions of USG
actions to implement WHTI-compliant identification programs
using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to
expedite transit through border crossings. The CBP/DHS
initiatives received positive feedback from participants from
both sides of the border but many are reserving judgment on the
RFID programs until they are more fully implemented and data
collected on their effectiveness.

3. The 2010 Winter Olympics took center stage in many of the
border sessions. CBSA incurred some very negative press when
its representative, in response to a request for comment on how
it will handle Olympics traffic, noted that they didn't expect
Olympics traffic to exceed what is experienced in a regular
August peak season (probably an accurate assessment) but failed
to provide concrete examples of what CBSA is doing to prepare
for the rush (peak season now can lead to hours-long waits). BC
provincial officials were unimpressed and did not hide their
concern in statements to media. Premier Gordon Campbell, in his
keynote on July 21, described his experience at the 2004 Athens
Olympics Opening Ceremony, where he waited 3 and half hours for
transportation at the end of the event. He emphasized that he
did not want anyone to remember the 2010 Olympics because of the
wait at the border. Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell
Day in his keynote on July 22, directly addressed the issue,
explicitly promising that there would be no long, multi-hour
lineups at the border during the Olympics. He pointed to
additional lanes (already under construction at Peace Arch) and
staffing as just two measures being taken to handle the load.
Despite his reassurances, local officials remain skeptical and
are looking for more concrete steps from Ottawa and Washington
to improve border processing.

4. PNWER, with BC and Washington State delegations in the lead,
is mounting a full campaign for better border management.
During the summit PNWER released a Border Charter, outlining its
priorities and proposals for making the border work more
efficiently. The charter closely mirrors and endorses the
report issued jointly by the Canadian and U.S. Chambers of
Commerce in February 2008 with an additional emphasis on the
2010 Olympics. The charter also establishes a Border Solutions
Coordination Council within PNWER to monitor developments on the
border and produce a yearly border report card using the
proposals in the charter as measures. Among the many PNWER
proposals are:

a. assurance that the U.S. will have 10 lanes for processing at
Peace Arch during the Olympics;
b. customer service workshops for customs and border agents for
dealing with increased Olympics traffic;
c. pre-clearance program for buses and special lanes for
Olympics traffic;
d. special lanes for U.S. and Canadian citizens;
e. baggage by-pass for air passengers to eliminate duplicative
f. more pre-clearance and processing prior to physical arrival
at the border;
g. customs pre-clearance for Amtrak service between Seattle and
h. increased use of truck pre-clearance and electronic seals.
i. improved procedures for frequent business travelers;
j. expansion of trusted traveler and enhanced driver's license

(EDL) programs;
k. approval of EDLs and Passport Cards for use as air travel
documents between Canada and the US.

Sharing Ideas on Energy, Environment and Asia-Pacific
--------------------------------------------- --------

5. PNWER also released a report it commissioned from the Idaho
National Laboratory looking at electrical transmission in the
Pacific Northwest. The report stated the region could lose $55
to $85 billion dollars and 60,000 jobs annually if actions are
not taken to fix the region's aging electrical transmission
system. The report noted that the system is so constrained
member utilities are having to turn down new industrial
customers for lack of capacity. BC is highlighted as a major
new source of sustainable power. The report also describes 5
major upgrade projects considered critical to the region,
including California-based Pacific Gas and Electric's proposed
$4 billion transmission upgrade set to carry 30,000 gigawatts of
BC power south to the U.S. In addition to electricity,
sessions looked at other energy sources, with an emphasis on
clean energy and technologies being used in the oil and gas
industry to address climate change.

6. The conference overlaid Asia-Pacific Gateway throughout, with
sessions on the Gateway as a border management issue, the
Gateway and environment, and the Gateway as an opportunity for
cross-border cooperation in global competitiveness. During the
summit representatives from the new Prince Rupert port announced
they are moving forward on phase two expansion which will
include a potash component that will "rival that of the Port of
Portland." Prince Rupert was initially billed as a port that
would take overflow from other oversubscribed west coast ports,
but discussions at PNWER indicate that the small facility, which
claims to cut off 3 shipping days from Asia, is beginning to
nibble at the business of its bigger, more southerly rivals.

7. Comment: PNWER has grown from a small, localized organization
to a regional powerhouse with substantial public and private
participation. The organization hopes to build on this growing
membership and past successes, such as the introduction of NEXUS
and enhanced driver's licenses, to push forward an expansive
border agenda. However, a bigger agenda requires a broader base
of support, and with border issues primarily focused on the
Washington State-BC border, it's not clear PNWER is going to get
the support it needs from the other members (and the two federal
governments) to really make a radical change in border
management. In other areas, such as energy and climate change,
PNWER shows much more unified support and will present a
powerful lobby on issues it chooses to pursue in Ottawa and DC.
End Comment.


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