Canada, U.S. reach agreement on $1-billion border security deal

Conservative government will use money cut from existing programs to cover $1-billion price tag

The world's longest undefended border is getting a $1-billion makeover.

To be modelled after the Canada-U.S. Smart Border Declaration, a strategy announced in late 2001, the new perimeter security deal will include "built-in structures" and "ensuring things happen on schedule."

The Canadian Press has the story:

OTTAWA - A much-ballyhooed perimeter security deal between Canada and the United States will come with a $1-billion price tag for new border facilities and programs to make trade and travel easier, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Conservative government will use money cut from existing programs to cover the hefty cost of the international pact, an attempt to protect the continent from terrorist threats while speeding the flow of people and products across the 49th parallel.

The deal, as described by several sources, is more evolutionary than revolutionary, falling short of the grand vision outlined with fanfare eight months ago when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama announced negotiations.

Emblematic of this reality is the fact there are no immediate plans for a prime ministerial-presidential announcement of the agreement, to be unfurled this month, because the Prime Minister's Office has been unable to persuade the White House to make Obama available.

Canadian officials are heading to Washington this weekend to make a final pitch for a public signing ceremony.

"It's very incremental, it not big and visionary,'' said a source with detailed knowledge of the deal. "Which is why the White House is saying, 'Really, you expect the president to announce a working group?'''

Sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the pact ahead of its public release.

The so-called Beyond the Border action plan will include some three dozen items the governments plan to pursue together. A number could be in place within months while others would take as long as four or five years to implement.

Harper has placed strong emphasis on "the things that can be done quickly,'' picking the "low-hanging fruit'' as opposed to a broad, sweeping agreement that addresses every possible border issue, said one person who was briefed on the plans.

"I don't there there's going to be one big headline item,'' said another source familiar with the deal.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, both countries have been bedevilled by the challenges of shielding the continent from another assault without impeding the flow of trade across the vast border, valued at $1.6 billion a day.

Business leaders in both countries have railed against a buildup of red tape they say has undermined one of the world's most lucrative trading relationships.

According to those familiar with the negotiations, the deal will attempt to peel away layers of bureaucracy by introducing measures to improve communications on customs and security issues and streamline procedures in both countries.

This will mean "taking that to a deeper level than we've seen before in terms of the two governments sharing information on common threats,'' said one source.

"It's about identifying who are the bad people and what is the bad stuff that we want to keep out of North America, and the issue is how to share information to make that happen.''

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