Point of View

What ‘coordinated border management’ means for Canada

3 June 2015
By Luc Portelance, President, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)

This year’s WCO theme is ‘coordinated border management’ (CBM), which signals our collective aspiration to strengthen our working relationships with other government agencies responsible for Customs-related responsibilities, trade partners, and border agencies. For some time now, the WCO has taken the view that CBM leads to a number of benefits, including improved delivery of services and cost efficiencies. For Canada, CBM is a strategy upon which the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) was established and actively pursues day-to-day across government departments, with the private sector, and internationally. Our experience is that CBM is essential to advancing our mandate.

Putting our people first

Foundationally, CBM rests on the efficacy of a well-trained and forward-leaning workforce first and foremost. To this end, the Agency recently developed a ‘People’s Strategy,’ which aims to energize our people management programme to better support our training, development and leadership needs. The hard work of many people in the CBSA has culminated in a clear vision for our employees, which includes the following three components: the first of which is how we develop our workforce. Our aim is to have the right people in the right jobs with the right skills and training; the second is supporting leadership. We need to give our present and future leaders the support they need to push for change, and to take our organization to new levels of performance excellence; and finally, we have to create an enabling environment. We want to foster an environment in which employees feel proud to serve, challenged and engaged. The ‘People’s Strategy’ is an investment in our workforce, which ensures that our people have what they need to meet the challenges of the dynamic border management environment.

An integrated border management agency

The CBSA was created in 2003, when the Government of Canada integrated the border-related functions that were previously dispersed across a number of government agencies – Customs and revenue collection, immigration, and food plant and animal safety – into a single organization. The rationale for this integration was based on the recognition that strengthened coordination across government departments that have a focus on the border was essential to achieving our security and economic objectives. The Agency serves other Canadian government departments by enforcing over 90 acts of legislation on their behalf.

This integration has enabled us to better streamline border processes for industry, strengthen our ability to assess risks and secure the border strategically. This approach allocates resources more effectively, and facilitates inter-governmental cooperation at all levels. We are providing a sharper focus on security at the border, as part of a greater national strategy on crime prevention, public safety and health. The CBSA’s structure also provides a legal framework which allows for a coordinated approach to information-sharing in order to respond to global threats, such as ‘foreign fighters’ and the Ebola virus.

Coordination and collaboration within Canada

The CBSA reports to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. This provides the Agency with an excellent opportunity to work in concert with other organizations under the Public Safety Canada umbrella, as they all report to the same Minister, such as intelligence, national police, and corrections and parole. For example, CBM in this context includes assessing inbound risks through a centralized national targeting centre, and collaboration across the pertinent government departments, administrations and the private sector.

  1. The CBSA’s National Targeting Centre

The CBSA’s National Targeting Centre (NTC) is a centralized targeting model that benefits the travelling public and the trade community by enabling the Agency to focus its examination and interdiction activities on high-risk people and goods. The CBSA uses a variety of threat and risk assessment methodologies – including scenario-based targeting, intelligence and other technologies to identify potential risks to the security and safety of people and goods. The NTC is the single authority that receives and processes data from airlines. The sharing of data with other Canadian authorities and third countries is done only under strict conditions, on a case by case basis. Coordinated efforts with other government departments helps inform the NTC`s targeting procedures.

In the passenger mode, initiatives utilizing Advanced Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Record (PNR) data are designed to protect Canadians by enabling the CBSA to perform a risk assessment of travellers prior to their arrival in Canada. API/PNR data is used by the CBSA to identify persons, and their goods, who may require closer questioning or examination on arrival in Canada because they may pose a potential threat to Canada’s safety or security. The analysis of PNR data can assist us in identifying known and unknown individuals who could pose a risk to our National Security upon their return.

  1. Single Window initiative

The ‘Single Window’ provides a single entry point for the advance electronic reporting of information required to satisfy CBSA and other governmental departments’ importing criteria, which allows the Agency to focus its efforts on the highest and unknown risks. This results in a streamlined approach to gathering information needed from industry by different government departments. By December 2016, nine Canadian government departments will participate, including Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Transport Canada, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, among others.

  1. Joint Border Strategy

On the law enforcement front, the CBSA and Canada’s federal policing agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), announced the first-ever Joint Border Strategy (JBS). The JBS captures our collective understanding of the dynamic and global threat environment by identifying objectives for greater collaboration, and improving coordination and cooperation at the strategic and tactical levels through:

  • collective priority setting and planning;
  • information and intelligence sharing;
  • co-locating employees;
  • leveraging each organization’s existing infrastructure;
  • training and secondment processes.

The sharing of information in a coordinated fashion through the JBS facilitates the CBSA’s targeting and interdiction of illicit goods.

  1. Authorized Economic Operator (Trusted Traders)

Canada also partners with the private sector, through Trusted Traders programmes, such as CBSA’s ‘Partners in Protection.’ Companies that invest in security processes and compliance systems which meet CBSA standards encounter fewer secondary inspections and reduced paperwork requirements. This partnership allows the CBSA to have greater confidence in trusted companies’ compliance with Canadian Customs, security, duty, and tax requirements, so that we may focus our resources on targeting commercial shipments involving companies of higher or unknown risk. The CBSA continues to explore ways to enhance these programmes to make them more effective, for example, by increasing membership benefits – such as simplified accounting procedures, dedicated lanes at border crossings and expedited clearance – in Trusted Traders programmes to encourage greater participation.

  1. Shared cooperation agenda with Industry

The CBSA invests in partnerships with industry at a broader level through regular consultations with the private sector, both through an established formal committee structure on wide-ranging trade issues, and through bilateral meetings. We have also strengthened our partnership with the private sector by recently developing a ‘Shared Cooperation Agenda’. This produced a set of mutually-beneficial priorities to promote compliance and private industry’s interest in more efficient and predictable border processes, and also assists in the Agency’s modernization efforts.

Partnerships beyond our borders

The CBSA partners internationally to better achieve our dual mandate of economic prosperity and public safety. For day-to-day cooperation, the Agency counts on Liaison Officers posted in 47 locations around the world to work directly with foreign Customs administrations to address common issues, exchange information and best practices, and enhance bilateral relations. The role of these officers is essential to the Agency’s border management approach of pushing the borders out, and facilitating low-risk travellers and goods. It notably embraces advanced risk assessment, and the Customs-to-Customs and Customs-to-business partnership pillars of the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global trade.

Supporting both CBSA’s operations and international relations, the Liaison Officers play a pivotal role in CBM, as they work collaboratively with both foreign border management and domestic law enforcement agencies based in the host country. The Agency also engages in focused cooperation agendas through bilateral agreements with its international counterparts that range in scope based on alignment of interests, trade volumes, and mandates.

  1. United States

The Canada-Unites States (US) border – Canada’s only shared land border – is a celebrated success story in the world of border management due to a commitment on both sides of the border to keep legitimate trade and travel flowing smoothly, without compromising security. In December 2011, Canada and the US embarked on an ambitious shared agenda, called the ‘Beyond the Border (BtB) Action Plan,’ to strengthen both countries’ security while facilitating cross-border trade. The BtB Action Plan includes thirty different projects and initiatives under four key principles:

  • Addressing threats early;
  • Trade facilitation, economic growth and jobs;
  • Integrated cross-border law enforcement;
  • Critical infrastructure and cyber security.

One recent and high-profile example of Canada-US Customs and border cooperation is the recent preclearance agreement signed in Washington D.C. in March 2015 by the Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the US Secretary of Homeland Security. This agreement will provide the legal framework for Canadian and US border officials to pre-clear goods and people on the other’s territory in all modes, including land, marine and rail.

  1. Other countries (bilateral/trilateral/multilateral)

In addition to trilateral cooperation initiatives with Mexico and the US, Canada has entered into agreements to recognize international Trusted Trader programmes after validating their standards as being equivalent to our own. These Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) create efficiencies for both countries involved, as well as for the private sector. Canada’s first MRA was signed with the US in 2008, followed by several of our Asian partners in 2012. We are currently negotiating another three with the European Union, Israel and Mexico.

The CBSA has also signed Customs Mutual Assistance Agreements (CMAAs) with several international partners, which allow for the exchange of Customs information to help prevent and investigate Customs offences. Performance success stories from CMAAs abound from uncovering drug trafficking based on information shared with Australia, France and Japan, to discovering the intentional undervaluation of goods to avoid appropriate taxation via information shared with countries such as Turkey.

Multilaterally, the CBSA participates actively in the WCO and the Regional Conference of Customs Directors General for the WCO Americas and Caribbean region, amongst others. Through each of these organizations, Canada shares best practices, and advances international Customs cooperation initiatives.

Moving forward

In establishing the CBSA and adopting CBM as a strategy, many obstacles based on differing organizational cultures/interests, legislative barriers, technological complexities, and funding, have been encountered. However, the Canadian experience clearly shows that these challenges can be overcome, and the return on investment is significant, which better positions the Agency to achieve its dual mandate of increasing economic prosperity and ensuring the health, safety and security of Canadian citizens.


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