Commentary: Leadership differences at the Trade Symposium
Luc Portelance, president of the Canada Border Services Agency, took the stage at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s annual Trade Symposium in late November with Deputy (Acting) Commissioner David Aguilar to discuss progress with the bi-national Beyond the Border Initiative.
Beyond the Border is a multi-pronged effort to harmonize border management and push other functions to the international borders so commerce flows more easily, with less cost.
Portelance talked about the importance of partnerships in trying to align information sharing, programs and border infrastructure in ways that support economic growth.
But under audience questioning, Portelance exhibited less grasp of important details than one might hope. He didn’t seem to have much knowledge about whether Canada is developing an upgraded computer system for processing import and export documents similar to CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment.
Portelance, who has held the top Customs job for two years, also didn’t recall that Canada has had a 24-hour advance manifest rule in place for about eight years and didn’t mention Canada’s development of an Importer Security Filing, mirrored after the U.S. security program.
Asked about the scope of the new pilot project at the Port of Prince Rupert where CBSA is helping CBP by scanning high-risk containers bound to the United States by rail so redundant exams aren’t necessary at the land border, Portelance answered without stating that the program is only covering a small portion of the ocean boxes transiting Prince Rupert to the United States.
CBP chief David Aguilar, by contrast, has been a quick study since becoming deputy commissioner three years ago and acting commissioner last January (although “acting” has dropped from his title due to technicalities of the law regarding how long the term applies for what is supposed to be a temporary responsibility). Aguilar, you may remember, was the head of the Border Patrol when he was elevated by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to the No. 2 spot in December 2009 — and even led the agency for several months until Alan Bersin took over as the Obama administration’s pick.
Aguilar brought a long background in law enforcement with him. At first blush, the trade community would have been right to wonder whether he would have any understanding, or even care, about the role of Customs in the economic health of the nation. Would in-bond transportation, anti-dumping duty collection, intellectual property rights enforcement, supply chain security, the Automated Commercial Environment and other trade issues be a priority for someone who’s world view was shaped by police work and border security? Would punishing technical violations of agency regulations take precedence over finding less burdensome ways to help industry comply?
But Aguilar has jumped into the trade issues with zeal and kept on track the trade transformation begun under Bersin. He is comfortable talking about a host of complex issues related to cargo security and trade enforcement. And he has maintained pressure on the agency to keep advancing reforms, such as simplified entry.
For that he deserves credit. — Eric Kulisch
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