Border issues must weigh trade vs. security carefully, U.S. Commerce Secretary says

Penny Pritzker

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told Amanda Lang it may be time to update NAFTA. (CBC)

The U.S. wants to make cross-border trade and travel easier, faster, and cheaper, but also more secure, according to U.S Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

In an interview with The Exchange with Amanda Lang, Pritzker said seamless border travel is one of the top wishes she hears from chief executives in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

“What they’re focused on how they move their goods and services between all three countries more easily and how we reduce the impediments to trade in the North American platform,” she said.

“What we hear from CEOs are things like ‘how do we get more pre-clearance of our goods so that something is easier to move from one country to another,’ “ she added.

Pritzker was an adviser to President Barack Obama on jobs and competitiveness before being appointed Commerce Secretary in 2013.

Thicker border 

She said all three countries are working to find a means of pre-tracking to help goods get across a border that has become “thicker” because of security concerns.

One possibility might be a form of the Nexus program, which already simplifies border crossings for about one million frequent travellers each year. CEOs argue there should be infrastructure in place to speed goods in the same way, Pritzker said.

“A lot of our agenda from the last year that will continue on is on these issues of border and regulatory harmonization and collaboration,” Pritzker said.

Regulatory harmonization over product standards, patent information and drug approvals could also help save time and red tape for companies who do business in all three countries, she said.

The United States and Canada generated $736 billion in bilateral trade in 2013, a result of the 20-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. That’s $1.4 trillion, if you add in Mexico.

Yet there are scores of trade irritants, on everything from meat-labelling to lumber prices.

Time for NAFTA update

Pritzker agreed NAFTA was “ground-breaking” in its day, but there are numerous new issues around trade that argue the need for an update.

“Today we have issues that weren’t even considered at the time,  labour standards, environmental standards, state-owned enterprises, new intellectual property protections,” she said.

Chief among these issues is cybersecurity, which the Obama administration considers a key file, she said.

The U.S. has criticized both Canada and Mexico as being “blind” on cybersecurity issues.

Pritzker said security standards are critical to protect all three economies.

“We created a cybersecurity framework to be used for critical infrastructure and now it’s being used by many corporations – it’s a standard for risk management. What we need though is we need cybersecurity best practices to extend to small and medium sized organizations so we’re protecting the entire enterprise of all three of our economies,” she said.

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