Kuster introduces bill to stimulate US-Canada trade, tourism
CLAREMONT — A bipartisan bill aimed at spurring trade and travel between the United States and Canada could be on a track to success, according to U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH).
Kuster, along with officials from the City of Claremont and Amtrak, announced the Promoting Travel, Commerce and National Security Act of 2016 on Wednesday at the Claremont Savings Bank Community Center conference room.
H.R. 4657, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives March 1 by Kuster, seeks to expand preclearance operations in Canada that will allow travelers to pass through immigrations, customs and agricultural inspections prior to traveling from Canada to the United States and vice-versa.
The same bill was also introduced by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) the same day in the Senate.
“It’ll help trade, it’ll help travel [...] it’ll protect our country,” said Kuster.
According to Kuster, 10,000 inadmissible travelers were intercepted at preclearance facilities before they departed from foreign soil in 2014, saving the U.S. more than $20 million in detention, processing and repatriation fees.
The bill seeks to add preclearance locations on both sides of the border for air, land and marine transit between the two countries. The bill also would establish preclearance facilities for rail transit for the first time.
Currently, trains crossing the Canadian border are stopped by customs officials who screen passengers and luggage before the train is able to cross, according to Amtrak Government Affairs Senior Northeast Manager Bill Hollister.
“This is a cumbersome process,” he said.
By streamlining the process on both sides of the border and screening potential threats before passengers board the train, Hollister said there would be a significant time and cost savings that could offset some of the costs of establishing the preclearance locations and encourage more people to travel by train between the two countries.
The bill’s passage would also mean the Amtrak Vermonter line, which extends from Washington D.C. up to St. Albans, Vermont, would be able to extend into Canada via the connection from St. Albans toMontreal — what used to be the Montrealer line.
In 2012, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded $7.9 million to the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New England Central Railroad (NECR) to upgrade the rail line between the two countries. The upgrades were completed in 2014.
As New Hampshire’s only stop on the Amtrak Vermonter line, Mayor Charlene Lovett sees the bill as an opportunity to attract tourists and trade to the city.
“We are the only community on the western side of the state to feature passenger rail,” said Lovett, who sees rail traffic and business from Canada as potentially being “a great economic driver.”
“[Passenger rail is] such a win-win-win in terms of trade and economic development,” said Kuster.
According to Hollister, it’s too soon to tell how much the project would cost and how long it would take to complete. Hollister said that Canada has already started the process and is working with Amtrak on designing a facility in Central Station in Montreal.
“It all comes down to funding,” said Hollister.
North Country Smokehouse founder Mike Satzow, who sold the business to the Canadian companyLes Specialites Prodal in March 2015, said that the potential streamlining of travel between the two countries has led his Canadian cohorts to say that those experiencing “T-syndrome” will make use of the rail line.
“The conservative Canadians in Montreal will be coming down, and the liberal Democrats will be leaving because of Trump,” he joked.