The maritime security requirement is under appreciated

In 2007, the federal government launched the National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors. The goal of the strategy is "to provide a quick, reliable, and secure transportation network between North American markets and markets in Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia via the Suez Canal." The vision is "a strategic, integrated, and globally competitive transportation system for international commerce to and from North America." Three very logical objectives are identified by the strategy:

  • Strengthen Canada's competitiveness in attracting a larger share of global commerce to and from traditional markets and with emerging international economies;
  • Advance a safe, secure, efficient and sustainable multi-modal transportation system that contributes to the economic prosperity of the Atlantic provinces and Canada; and
  • Promote the Atlantic Gateway and Trade Corridor's transportation system assets, specialized services and niche opportunities to exporters and importers, at home and internationally.

The second of the three objectives raises the need for safety and security of the system. The problem, at least from a maritime perspective, is that the issue is mainly couched in terms of the efficiency of the Canada-U.S. border, rather than Canada's interest in the safety and security of the global supply chain: "Enhancements to international border crossings will ensure the efficient and safe transport of freight and passengers by sea, rail, air, and road." While the movement of freight and passengers by sea is listed first in the 'efficiency areas' to be examined, the developments implemented over the first few years show that the focus of the gateway programs is clearly on land-related issues:

  • U.S. pre-clearance services, offered to passengers at the Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International Airport;
  • Free and Secure Trade Program (FAST) - a joint Canada - U.S. program for the expedited movement of low-risk goods and truck drivers;
  • NEXUS - a joint program to facilitate the movement of low-risk, pre-approved individuals who frequently cross the border; and
  • Advance notification requirements that expedite the movement of goods being shipped into Canada and the United States by all modes.

Admittedly, the vast majority of Canadian commercial freight moves to the U.S. and most of that goes by land. But, the maritime dimension of this business is still part of the equation. Transport Canada's 2007 report (the most recent available) Transportation in Canada shows a 4.5% average yearly increase in the two-way maritime trade between Canada and the U.S. (from a total of 68.2 million tonnes (MT) in 1986 to 129.5 MT in 2006) and a 2.6% average yearly increase in overseas two-way maritime trade (138.4 MT in 1986 to 208.9 MT in 2006). Our maritime trade with the U.S. has increased from 33% of the total in 1986 to 38.3% in 2006. So, while not massive by either global or continental standards (Singapore, the world's busiest port, moved 551.4 MT of cargo and 29.9M TEU containers in 2008: Houston moved 194.2MT of cargo; Los Angeles moved 7.8M TEU containers in the same year), it still measures in the millions of tonnes and the trends show steady increases in both Canada-U.S. and Canada-global maritime trade, with Canada-U.S. maritime trade increasing at almost twice (1.73 times) the global rate.

The problem with the concept of security being shaped by the Department of Transport is that their perspective pertains mainly to regulator efficiency aimed at eliminating the type of 'border thickening' that hampers land-based Canada-U.S. trade. The cynical view is that this is all designed to prevent political backlash over the inconvenience of long line-ups for passenger vehicles at customs stations. A more tempered viewed recognizes that cross-border shopping and tourism are important to both economies and needless waiting equates to lost revenues. However, if the Atlantic Gateway Strategy is ultimately successful in improving Canada's global trade connections through this region, then the volume of maritime trade will increase rapidly and its importance to hemispheric security will also increase. The average annual rate of increase for all maritime trade to and from Canada was 3.2% over the past 20 years (from 206.6 MT in 1986 to 338.4 MT in 2006). The potential to substantially raise that figure is highest on the east coast, where the port of Halifax is operating well below capacity and where there is the greatest opportunity to increase capacity.

As the gateway strategy recognizes, the global supply chain is predominantly a maritime system. Maritime transportation expert Shashi Kumar's article in the May 2010 issue of Naval Institute Proceedings entitled "U.S. Merchant Marine and World Maritime Review" states: "75 percent of global merchandise trade by volume and 59 percent by value is transported on ships. By value, land transport carries 28 percent and air freight 10 percent" (p 102 - unfortunately only available on-line to subscribers). These facts, which Kumar draws from a Lloyd's Maritime Intelligence Unit report for 2006, help identify the conundrum that global transportation security is predominantly a maritime issue, while in Canada transportation security is viewed mainly as a land issue. This dichotomy causes a conceptual 'grey zone' between the governmental departments that administer and conduct security operations.

Transport Canada is largely preoccupied with non-maritime issues even though the desired effect of the federal strategy is to increase the maritime component of Canadian trade. Even before the gateway strategy was launched, the 2006 statistics show that a noticeable increase in the maritime component of trade was already underway. Organizationally, a more practical grey zone exists between the mandates of the coast guard and the navy, neither of which is especially focused on the trade-related aspects of maritime security. Criminals and illegal migrants are already exploiting this gap in Canadian maritime security arrangements. Before a more serious act occurs, possibly one perpetrated by terrorists, would it not be better to properly appreciate the trends and get ahead of the requirement for maritime security? If a major security event takes place in the Canadian maritime domain, the repercussions for land-based trade with the U.S. will be severe, whether or not there is any direct causal relationship to that vital economic artery.