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Canada crossing confusion continues

Buffalo Business First [ View Original Article ]
Maryann Stein doesn't need to hear any horror stories about border-crossing issues.

She has her own.

The director of international programs for the Erie County Industrial Development Agency recently went to St. Catharines for a daylong trade conference. Because of her job, Stein does a lot of international traveling and routinely carries her passport and enhanced driver's license in her purse.

When she got to the customs booth on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge, she was asked her destination.

No big deal, right? Wrong.

Explaining she was headed to the conference just up the Queen Elizabeth Way, the customs agent asked Stein for "her letter."

What letter?

The agent informed her that she needed a letter from her employer explaining why Stein wanted to enter Canada and where she was going.

"I was just going there for a couple of hours, and just for a meeting," she said.

Eventually she was allowed to enter Canada, but her story is indicative of the continuing confusion about what documents people and companies need to enter the United States or Canada since the stringent Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative became the latest border-crossing mandate.

Established nearly 18 months ago, WHTI was the creation of former President George W. Bush's administration in reaction to the 2001 terrorist attacks. It has been alternately praised for its tightened security requirements and condemned in some quarters for making border crossing less seamless and less business-friendly.

To get a better handle on the impact of WHTI on individuals as well as businesses, the ECIDA, the BiNational Tourism and Economic Development Alliance and other economic development agencies in Western New York and Southern Ontario are jointly participating in a "Border Remedial Action Plan" study. It's being compiled by Deloitte & Touche and is due later this year or by early 2011.

Officials said they hope to use the study results as a foundation for recommended changes in border-crossing procedures.

"It doesn't mean that we have to go back to the pre-9/11 days, but everyone wants the border to be more friendly," said Mayor Ted Salci of Niagara Falls, Ont. "We understand the security aspects, but we keep hearing horror stories about businesses being impacted."

Stein said she spends much of her time working with ECIDA clients and trying to ease the confusion. Part of the problem is that there are different views of border security between U.S. and Canadian officials.

The Canadians appear to be more accommodating, she said, despite her recent incident.

"The Canadians, to me, appear to be much more aware and concerned about how all of this does effect their economy," Stein said. "Clearly, the Canadians are more aware of what trade means to them."

Standard information is key.

"Businesses cannot afford to have their trucks stuck for hours and hours at the border because an agent decides the driver doesn't have the right documentation," she said. "Delays translate into lost customers. It's not fair to businesses, or people, to start changing horses in midstream."

Robert Rich III, president of Roar Logistics Inc. in Buffalo, said entry into the United States became more challenging in the post-WHTI days. Knowing that, he adds potential border delays into the travel time of his drivers and trucks.

"You prepare for the worst and hope for the best," he said. "There is a lot of adjusting."

Roar handles logistics services on both sides of the border. Rich sees signs that the process is beginning to smooth out, however.

"In general, the border today is better than it was three years ago," he said. "Unfortunately, this is a part of business now and part of the new world economy."

Amherst attorney and immigration law specialist Roseanna Berardi said there have been times when she had to travel across the border with her clients to help them navigate their way through border-crossing requirements.

The bottom line, she said, is to be ready.

Find out what documents are needed and have them prepared before heading for the border.

That holds true whether one is entering the United States or Canada, Berardi said.

"It is absolutely critical to have everything in order," she added.

She recalled a horror story in which one of her clients attempted to enter Canada for a business trip.

The client had the necessary documentation, including a valid passport. The trouble was, his business partner had a DWI infraction from Canada, which is a felony in that country.

The partner was denied entry into Canada and the business trip was canceled.

"The lesson: You have to know everything about the person sitting next to you, too," Berardi said.

"The border patrols, especially on the U,S. side, have had a cultural change since 9/11. They are afraid of admitting the wrong person into the country.

"They have adopted this ‘culture of no,' she said, "and that is hurting business and people."

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