Nearly 60 Canadian business groups are urging Ottawa to resolve a dispute with Washington over the popular Nexus trusted-travel program that allows citizens of both countries to cross the border more quickly.
The dispute, which has left about 490,000 Canadians waiting in the queue to get their applications approved, also involves the Fast program that makes cross-border commercial shipments simpler and subject to fewer delays.
In a letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and U.S. Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the business groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the dispute must be immediately resolved to prevent economic and personal repercussions.
“The Canadian business community is deeply concerned about the failure of the two governments to agree to the reopening of Nexus and Fast enrolment facilities in Canada,” according the Nov. 4 letter provided to The Globe and Mail. “Having a jointly managed trusted-traveller program is essential, both to foster economic growth and to deepen the ties between our countries’ citizens.”
Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty said he is worried the U.S. will end both programs, which would negatively affect Canadian businesses.
“We have reached an impasse and, at some point if the impasse is not overcome, it is likely they are going to suggest that Canadians get in line with everyone else in the global entry program,” Mr. Beatty said in an interview Sunday.
Mr. Mendicino’s office said late Sunday that he held talks over the weekend with Mr. Mayorkas.
“Both sides are committed to the continued success of Nexus and are optimistic that operations can be efficiently ramped up to prepandemic levels,” Mr. Mendicino said in a statement. He added both countries want to “leverage technology, streamline renewals and ensure deployment of U.S. personnel to Nexus enrolment centres as soon as possible.”
At issue is a dispute over legal protections for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, officers who work in Nexus offices in Canada. The Americans want the same protection for them as is guaranteed to its preclearance officers at Canadian land crossings and airports under a 2019 binational agreement.
Nexus and Fast are a joint program, and require applicants to be interviewed by both Canadian and U.S. customs officers before approval is granted.
Mr. Mendicino recently told The Globe that Ottawa is standing firm on its stand that U.S. customs officers can’t have the same legal protection at Nexus enrolment centres as they do at Canadian preclearance halls.
He said Americans who work in preclearance areas enjoy legal protections because “travellers are moving immediately on to the United States as opposed to Nexus enrolment centres where they are away from official ports of entry.”
A U.S. official told The Globe that the issue is the absence of standard legal protections for official duties performed by CBP officers at trusted-traveller enrolment centres in Canada. For example, U.S. customs officers are allowed to be tried in U.S. courts for most offences if they’re charged with an on-duty crime in Canada. The Globe is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen said last week that “it’s Canada’s problem to solve” and the U.S. is adamantly opposed to resuming the program without legal rights for its officers.
Mr. Cohen has privately told Canadian business leaders that the United States is prepared to cancel the Nexus and Fast programs if Ottawa doesn’t relent, according to a source. The Globe is not identifying the source as they were not authorized to disclose private discussions with Mr. Cohen.
In their letter, the Canadian business groups said both countries need to “demonstrate creativity and commitment to urgently resolve the outstanding issues.”
The groups, also including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Food Producers of Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said they are supportive of a Canadian proposal to conduct video interviews with applicants while negotiations continue to resolve the issue.
“We urge the governments to implement such a system as rapidly as possibly,” the letter said.
Mr. Mendicino has said he discussed the possibility of virtual interviews with U.S. customs offices when he recently held talks with Mr. Mayorkas. But the U.S. official at the embassy told The Globe that the virtual option is not practical and is unlikely to get off the ground.
Before the pandemic, the U.S. official said 60 per cent of Nexus processing was done in Canada and 80 per cent of the applications were Canadians.
The official said Canadians will have to either travel to U.S. Nexus enrolment offices or to the U.S. border to be interviewed before they can obtain a Nexus card. Existing Nexus members, whose cards are about to expire, can continue to use the travel document for another five years, provided they submit a renewal application online.
In an interview with The Globe last month, Mr. Mendicino dismissed as untrue reports that the dispute is over a request for U.S. customs officers to carry guns at Canadian enrolment centres. Neither Canadian nor U.S. customs officers are permitted to carry guns in Nexus centres, which are located at or near airports but separate from customs clearances, he said.