Canada and the United States have reached a workaround deal in a dispute over the popular Nexus trusted traveller system, one of several announcements that came out of Tuesday’s North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City.
Canada also said it will buy a U.S.-made National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS) and an unspecified number of missiles, to be donated to Ukraine, but did not say how much it would cost.
As well, Joe Biden will visit Canada in March, his first visit since becoming U.S. President.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau avoided answering media questions on whether Canada would lead a military mission to Haiti, saying Ottawa is working with allies on “options” if the Caribbean country’s political crisis worsens again. He said sanctions on handful of Haitian elites – such as the ones Canada has applied – would be the most effective action right now.
The one-day get-together, informally known as the Three Amigos Summit, wrapped up on Tuesday, but Mr. Trudeau will stay in Mexico City Wednesday to meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
The dispute over Nexus, which allows citizens of Canada and the United States to cross their joint border more quickly, generated a backlog of about 274,000 applicants waiting for approval.
Canada and the U.S. remain at odds over legal protections for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, officers who worked in Nexus offices in Canada. The Americans want the same protection for them as is guaranteed to U.S. preclearance officers at Canadian land crossings and airports under a 2019 binational agreement.
A deal announced by the United States and Canada on Tuesday does not solve the dispute over legal protections but creates a workaround.
A key part of the application process is two interviews: one by Canadian customs officials and one by American CBP officers. These must be completed before a Nexus card is granted and were previously conducted at special offices across Canada that were located near Canadian airports.
The workaround will allow Canadian Nexus applicants to conduct their Canadian interview at a number of Canadian-based enrolment centres that will be reopened. Then applicants would head to U.S. customs preclearance offices at any of eight Canadian airports to conduct their American interview. More details will be announced shortly, the two countries said.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said applicants will be expected to schedule the American interview at Canadian airports during the course of checking in for a U.S-bound flight.
“We expect a new enrolment option for air travellers to be available by the spring that will include CBSA [Canadian Border Services Agency] interviews at reopened enrolment centres in Canada and separate CBP interviews in Canadian airport preclearance locations for departing applicants,” the two countries said in a statement.
Another short-term fix announced last year allows Canadian applicants to conduct both interviews at two land border points of entry to the United States: one near Kingston and one at Fort Erie, Ont. In these cases, the applicants conduct their Canadian interview on the Canadian side and then cross the border to the U.S. customs office to conduct their American interview.
The length of Mr. Biden’s March visit or which cities he will visit were not announced.
The high-tech NASAMS weapon system, which the U.S. is also supplying Ukraine, allows Kyiv’s forces to knock Russian missiles out the sky. Such gear has taken on added importance since the fall when Moscow increased its missile strikes to destroy Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Mr. Trudeau on Twitter for “helping us to protect our sky,” praising his “standing for democracy and human rights.”
Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Biden and Mr. Lopez Obrador also approved a plan to boost North American production of semiconductors – part of a bid by the White House to reduce dependence on Asian-made versions of these fingernail-sized chips, found at the heart of modern technology from smartphones to cars to medical devices.
The White House announced United States, Canada and Mexico will set up the “first-ever trilateral semiconductor forum” to shape government policies and increase investment in supply chains. They will also draw up better maps of critical mineral locations across the continent to help reduce reliance on China.
Mr. Trudeau said strengthening North American supply chains was a major focus of the talks as the three countries look to lessen dependence on overseas supplies of critical minerals.
He was asked how Canada might gain a portion of semiconductor production. The Prime Minister noted Canada already conducts chip testing and packaging in Quebec.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau also discussed how to handle the humanitarian and gang crisis in Haiti – with the U.S. nudging Canada to lead an international security force.
Mr. Trudeau said representatives of his government were consulting with Haitian authorities on what to do. He said he was considering ways to shore up the Haitian National Police, to whom Canada has already given aid including armoured vehicles. But the Prime Minister made no specific commitments.
“We need to make sure that the solutions are driven by the people of Haiti themselves,” he told reporters at the National Palace.
Mr. Trudeau highlighted Canada’s efforts to put sanctions on former Haitian politicians whom it accuses of funnelling money to gangs, an area in which Ottawa has been more aggressive than Washington.
“A handful of small, extraordinarily wealthy families in Haiti have been causing much of the strife, because of their political and pecuniary interests,” he said.
The U.S. floated the idea of Canada leading such a force last fall, but Canada demurred on making a decision, saying it needed more time to consult with Haitians.
Haiti is suffering from shortages of food, medicine and fuel, in part because of gang blockades of ports and frequent kidnappings. Canada and the U.S. are the two largest foreign-aid contributors to the country and have also laid sanctions against Haitian politicians they accuse of helping finance the gangs.
The U.S. is also eager to stabilize Haiti to stop the flow of Haitian migrants, who have shown up in large numbers at the southern border and in Florida. Last week, Mr. Biden announced a plan to turn back Haitians, along with citizens of three other countries, at the border.
Before the pandemic, about 60 per cent of Nexus processing was done in Canada and 80 per cent of the applicants were Canadians.
Defence Minister Anita Anand said in a statement the NASAMS is Canada’s first donation of a surface-to-air missile system to Kyiv. She said it will cost more than $400-million and is funded from an additional $500-million originally allocated for Ukraine by Ottawa in November.
A NASAMS is a short- to medium-range ground-based air defence system that protects against drone, missile, and aircraft attack.
STEVEN CHASE, SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER
ADRIAN MORROW, U.S. CORRESPONDENT
The Globe and Mail, January 10, 2023