Ongoing progress between Mexican, U.S. and Canadian authorities to integrate border management policies and procedures has led U.S. Customs and Border Protection to consider proposing a tripartite conference, modeled on CBP's popular Trade Symposium, to update industry about their joint efforts, Deputy Commissioner Thomas Winkowski said Friday.
About 800 trade professionals attended the Trade Symposium Thursday and Friday in Washington, D.C., to hear officials outline their vision for customs reforms and trade simplification, as well as industry representatives that are advising the agency or participating in pilot programs to help shape programs and rules.
Winkowski, addressing the audience toward the end of the event, laid out the possibility of expanding the forum to Mexico and Canada to help get the cooperation of businesses there and exchange ideas for minimizing the regulatory burden on cross-border trade.
CBP is working closely with the Canada Border Services Agency to implement many aspects of the U.S.-Canada Beyond the Border initiative and with Mexican Customs on a joint 21st Century Border Management initiative, both of which are designed to make the border more efficient for commerce while strengthening security cooperation to thwart criminals and terrorists from exploiting the trade and transportation system. Efforts are underway to harmonize data required from the private sector and how it is shared among the customs administrations; pre-clear passengers and cargo before reaching the border; and standardize trusted trader and traveler programs in all three countries.
The United States, Canada and Mexico have each developed information technology systems enabling traders to file customs data once for dispersal throughout the government instead of filing separate, and often duplicate, documentation with multiple agencies that need to review entries for clearance purposes. The United States has set a December 2016 deadline to launch its International Trade Data System. Mexico's version of the "single window" system is already in operation, and Canada plans to go live with its system at the end of the year.
In a briefing with reporters, Winkowski, who served 11 months as acting commissioner until Thursday afternoon, when Gil Kerlikowske was confirmed by the Senate, said he has asked his staff to begin crafting some concepts for a North American-style trade symposium.
CBP's mission of securing and expediting trade can best be accomplished through cooperation with international partners, and the working relationship with Canadian and Mexican customs authorities has become especially tight in the past few years, Winkowski said.
"I think we are reaching a point here that we need to have a similar forum involving the customs administrations from the two countries as well as industry stakeholders," he said.
Although the NAFTA partners have made good progress on thinning red tape at the border for legitimate traders, "I think there's a lot more opportunity out there for us to really make the globe even smaller than it is today," he continued.
"In order to do that, I believe, you got to get buy-in from the stakeholders. They have to want to be part of this. And I think there's no better forum than something like this [the Trade Symposium]" for two-way learning, Winkowski said.
The deputy commissioner suggested the event could be sponsored by all three customs administrations, with the location rotating among the nations.
Winkowski also said CBP needs to consider holding the CBP Trade Symposium on the West Coast again. In May 2012, Customs brought the event to Long Beach to gain more participation from companies, especially small businesses, that balked at the cost of traveling to Washington. It held an East Coast Trade Symposium toward the end of the year.