Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Watching to See If Border Pact Threatened by U.S. Budget Cuts

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Watching to See If Border Pact Threatened by U.S. Budget Cuts

Article excerpt

U.S. budget cuts could hit border pact

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OTTAWA - Canada will be watching closely to see whether a massive scheduled budget cut in the U.S. this week will affect the Beyond the Border pact between the two countries, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Wednesday.

Unless polarized U.S. lawmakers can come together, about US$85 billion in cuts are set to hit U.S. federal programs starting Friday.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said earlier this week there would be pain for the Canada-U.S. border because her department would have to cut 5,000 border-patrol agents if the cuts go through.

Baird said the deal is key to the prosperity of both countries.

"We're going to continue to be very, very focused on it," he said Wednesday.

"After March 1, we'll see what challenges arise. Obviously, this is not the way Canada would prefer to make these types of budgetary decisions. But it is what it is."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama signed the vaunted border deal 14 months ago.

It is designed to speed trade across the 49th parallel while protecting the North American continent from terrorist threats.

Napolitano said the looming cuts, known as sequestration, will cause pain for Canadians, in particular at the busy Canada-U.S. border.

"Sequester will be felt up there because there's only a few big crossing places for trade on the Canadian-U.S. border and they're really important crossing places," Napolitano said in a speech to a Washington think tank.

"In fact, trade-wise, they're probably the No. 1 or 2 crossing places in the world. As sequester evolves and we have to furlough people who are port officers and not fill vacant positions, and not pay overtime, we're unfortunately going to see those lines really stretch."

If Congress fails to reach a deal to avert the cuts, Napolitano said, the jobs will be lost.

Cuts to customs and border security staff will increase congestion and hurt Canadian companies, said Fen Hampson, director of the global security program at the Waterloo, Ont., Centre for International Governance Innovation. …

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