Georgia companies doing business with Canada should push for a new border-crossing system that will ensure their trucked goods arrive on time once new passport requirements take effect, said Ken Oplinger, president of the Business for Economic Security, Tourism and Trade coalition, who visited Atlanta recently.

Mr. Oplinger heads the cross-border BESTT coalition of U.S. and Canadian companies that are concerned about the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will require all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda to present a passport when entering the U.S. from within the Western Hemisphere.

BESTT is proposing a new border-crossing system that would revise the current U.S. driver’s license to include in a barcode the same information as a passport. It would also link to state criminal databases to do onsite background checks to clear passengers for crossing the U.S.-Canada border.

“Southeastern companies may not think much about this passport issue, but it will affect the transit of their products across the Canadian border, especially for the automotive industry in the Southeast that relies on a smooth-functioning north-south supply chain,” Mr. Oplinger told GlobalAtlanta in an interview at the Canadian Consulate General on March 29.

“The concern for the Southeast should be the border with Detroit where trucks and cars have to cross separately,” he said, referring to bridges that cross the border that cannot be easily widened to have separate lanes for freight and passenger vehicles.

The border between Detroit and Toronto is the largest freight crossing in the world, seeing four times the amount of freight that travels between the U.S. and China each year, according to Mr. Oplinger.

But even if cargo trucks are participating in a “fast lane” program that allows drivers with background checks and proper IDs to pass quickly across the border, they must wait in the same lines as cars to cross on certain highways, he said.

And truckers are more frequently being scrutinized at the border because of fears of drug smuggling via trucks that are deemed “safe” and given special credentials, Mr. Oplinger added.

“Your company’s goods may be stalled at the border mainly because passenger vehicles are slowing up the lines,” he said, noting that there are often two-hour lines to cross the border in his town of Blaine, Wash.

Mr. Oplinger’s solution is a state driver’s license that contains information about the holder’s nationality, as well as an expanded barcode that would be included on driver’s licenses in all 50 states and Canadian provinces. In three seconds, a scanner at the border could read the license to assess the validity of the photograph and information, plus run a background check against state and provincial databases.

“Passports don’t look at state criminal databases, only federal ones. Plus, people already carry driver’s licenses in their wallets,” he said. “If truckers can get through a primary border check in 30 seconds, they can still guarantee their just-in-time delivery.”

Mr. Oplinger said that the state of Washington is already running a pilot program for the new driver’s license idea.

In the pilot, people are charged $20 extra to renew their driver’s license, which displays a small American flag to depict citizenship, an expanded barcode containing passport information and a radio frequency identification chip that can be read at border crossings.

If the pilot is successful in Washington, it will be rolled out in Michigan and New York, thus covering 90 percent of the vehicle crossings between the U.S. and Canada, Mr. Oplinger said.

In addition to border crossings, the new IDs could be used for boarding airplanes or other identification purposes, he added. The program will be available only to U.S.-born or naturalized citizens.

Mr. Oplinger encouraged Georgians to contact their U.S. representatives to co-sign a bill introduced by Louise Slaughter of Buffalo, N.Y., that calls for implementation of the driver’s license pilot project.

As early as January 1, 2008, U.S. citizens traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda by land or sea could be required to present a valid U.S. passport. Requirements for air travel went into effect on Jan. 23.

Story Contacts, Links and Related Stories
Canadian consulate – Christine Pappas, consul for political and economic relations and public affairs, (404) 532-2030