Senator Collins Expresses Concern with Agricultural Inspection Fees at Maine-Canada Border

Senator Susan Collins, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, today sent a letter to Secretary Michael Chertoff, Department of Homeland Security, and Secretary Mike Johanns, Department of Agriculture, expressing her concern with plans to levy new user fees on all commercial shipments that enter the United States from Canada.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

November 6, 2006

The Honorable Mike Johanns
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Room 200-A
Washington, DC 20250

The Honorable Michael Chertoff
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Johanns and Secretary Chertoff:

I am writing to express my concern with the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) interim rule implementing user fees for agricultural inspections on all commercial shipments that enter the United States from Canada.

The security of our borders, which includes protecting the United States from agricultural pests and diseases originating in other countries, must be a national priority. In addition to the accidental conveyance of a pest or disease into the United States, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, bioterrorism is a significant threat that should be addressed through enhanced targeting and inspection protocols. The intentional introduction of a pest or disease could have a devastating impact on U.S. agriculture and cause death or illness, undermining confidence in the safety of the American food system.

This security concern must be balanced against the unique trading relationship with Canada. There is a long history of close cooperation with the Canadians on the management of the border and addressing our mutual border concerns. Last year, $3.9 billion in products crossed the border between my state of Maine and Canada. Many Maine businesses depend for their survival on the timely importation of products from Canada. Delays in receiving inventories and supplies through a poorly managed inspection regime could do serious harm to these businesses. In addition, a user fee on the products crossing the border will act as a tax on these goods, raising costs and harming the competitiveness of U.S. companies.

Any new border inspection measures must recognize the balance between security and trade. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has successfully implemented policies in the past that focus on securing the supply chain with the assistance of the private sector and then targeting CBP’s limited resources on inspecting high-risk shipments. For example, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) has allowed CBP to work with importers and carriers to improve their supply chain security procedures and to require fewer examinations of shipments from these importers and carriers. Similar supply chain improvements could be used to address agriculture importation concerns. Agricultural inspections could then be targeted on shipments by importers and carriers that are most likely to present a risk to the United States. The policies of CBP and APHIS should continue to target resources on high-risk shipments.

However, the proposed interim rule fails to take a targeted approach, because it subjects all commercial shipments to inspections and imposes user fees on all commercial shipments, regardless of whether they include agricultural products. I also am troubled that this rule is proposed on an emergency basis that allows it to take effect on November 24, 2006, before the comments of interested parties can be adequately considered and before CBP has announced how it will implement an inspection regime that will not interfere with the flow of trade.

I urge you to consider whether the user fees can be assessed only on agricultural shipments. User fees on all shipments can be particularly burdensome for importers in states like Maine where the topography often means that the most expeditious path is for railways and highways to cross the border more than once. Because of these routes, a single shipment could be assessed a user fee multiple times during its journey.

I also am concerned that this policy may exceed the capacity of the land border ports of entry like the one in Calais, Maine. In Calais, there is only one lane crossing the bridge from Canada, and as trucks get backed up waiting for the single truck inspection lane, passenger vehicles are also prevented from crossing the bridge. If this new policy causes more lengthy inspections of trucks in Calais, trade and tourism across the Calais bridge will be hindered.

I would appreciate your prompt attention to this important matter and look forward to your response.