On the fast track

Through a joint program developed by the United States and Canada, carriers can be rewarded with expedited customs clearance for their proficiency in securing the physical and information aspects of freight transportation.

Fast and Secure Trade (FAST), a joint program of U.S. and Canadian customs agencies, was launched one year ago to improve security and speed commercial traffic through improved data collection and information sharing. Both agencies expect to implement FAST at all major crossings by the end of 2004.

Certified carriers that participate in the FAST program can save several hours per driver per week in crossing the border. A driver presents three bar-coded items – a personal commercial driver registration card; a company card; and a barcode to identify the importer of his load. Special lanes are being built especially for FAST-certified trucks, reducing customs inspections to less than a minute.

To participate, carriers and importers submit one application to both countries to receive certification for the U.S. Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and Canada’s Partners in Protection (PIP). Fleets must register their vehicles with customs, and truck drivers must also pass individual security checks. Each country performs an independent risk assessment and issues independent approvals.

The similar programs require documented use of technology in a carrier’s business processes that minimizes exposure to criminal elements. In completing the application, carriers must describe in detail their systems for business flow. Applicants must demonstrate how their business systems maintain accurate controls and provide appropriate audit trails. They also must show how their internal controls and links allow them to follow a shipment from the initial order through the delivery of that shipment and payment of the invoice.

One of the special requirements for importers is that they deliver an electronic manifest to customs before the truck leaves the origin, which benefits fleets with reduced paperwork and delays at the border.

The value of certification goes beyond internal productivity improvements. Carriers obtaining certification are using it as a marketing tool. FAST certification tells your customers that you can provide enhanced border security while improving customer service by moving shipments across the border in a more efficient and safe manner.

While the program may sound fairly simple on paper, getting approval and utilizing the FAST program can be a difficult and lengthy process. Drivers only need to complete a single Commercial Driver Application for the U.S. and Canada, but the customs and immigration services of both countries assess the risk of all applications, causing delays in the approval process.

Warren Gibson Inc., a 280-truck Alliston, Ontario-based carrier that hauls primarily for automobile manufacturers, has been certified by both Canada and the United States to participate in the FAST program, says Drew Foulds, dispatch supervisor. Customs officials have zero tolerance when it comes to glitches in a driver’s background check, which has caused some complaints from drivers, Foulds says.

“We have some drivers that have been crossing the border for 20 to 30 years, but even the minutest of charges in the criminal search are given zero tolerance and drivers are not allowed entry,” Foulds says. After submitting an application, drivers that the customs officials identify as low risk must report to an enrollment center where they are interviewed, and their original identification and citizenship documents are reviewed. They also are fingerprinted and photographed before being issued a FAST – Commercial Driver Card.
The hassle of applying and scheduling an interview is augmented by the time it takes to get approval.

“It is a very difficult situation because of the number of applications. Anyone that applies has to wait four to five months before they get the application back,” Foulds says. “It has caused a little bit of dissension among the ranks.”

Despite the frustration caused by waiting for approval for its drivers, the FAST program has already paid big dividends for Warren Gibson. “It has drastically reduced delays coming back into Canada,” Foulds says. “It is definitely a drastic change in the way things are done. Once implemented, it is very user friendly.”

For more on the FAST program, visit this site and click on the link for the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism.