Going Dutch: Canada, Netherlands negotiating trusted traveller agreement

A cyclist passes a windmill, a farmhouse and fields of flowers near Sint Maartensvlotbrug, north western Netherlands, Tuesday April 25, 2006. Relatively cold spring weather has delayed the blossoming of tulips.
A cyclist passes a windmill, a farmhouse and fields of flowers near Sint Maartensvlotbrug, north western Netherlands, Tuesday April 25, 2006. Relatively cold spring weather has delayed the blossoming of tulips. AP Photo/Peter Dejong

OTTAWA – Canadian and Dutch citizens would be able to visit each other’s countries more easily under a plan to expand Canada’s trusted traveller programs beyond North America.

Canada and the Netherlands have been negotiating a bilateral agreement that would allow their citizens to apply to each other’s programs for travellers considered to be a low security risk, records obtained under the Access to Information Act show.

The initiative would be modelled on the current Nexus travellers program between Canada and the United States, the Canada Border Services Agency records say. Officials have been developing the regulatory, technological and fee-collection systems needed to implement an accord.

“Canada has had discussions with the Netherlands since 2010,” Maja Graham, a border services agency spokeswoman, said in an emailed response to questions.

Graham declined to make anyone available for an interview. However, the internal agency records make it clear an agreement with the Netherlands would be the first strand of an effort to create a large web of mutual traveller programs with other countries.

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Trusted traveller programs are intended to speed the flow of low-risk, known citizens across borders by ushering them into express queues, giving security officers more time to focus limited resources on those who may pose a higher risk.

READ MORE: 5 things you need to know about the new Canadian ePassport

In signing a much-touted perimeter security deal with the United States two years ago, Canada committed to expanding the Nexus program – which has about 700,000 members – to third countries.

Enrolment in Nexus is expected to “reach saturation” at about a million members within a few years, meaning that reaching out to other countries “is necessary to increase the level of travellers entering Canada through expedited clearance,” say the notes.

A conservative estimate of potential intake into Canada’s trusted traveller programs, if arrangements were to be signed with “a handful of like-minded countries,” is in the range of 100,000 additional members, says a briefing note prepared for border agency president Luc Portelance.

In fact, the Canada-Netherlands agreement was expected to be in place last year, with a three-page draft agreement drawn up for consideration.

The border agency had no immediate comment on reasons for the delay.

Pursuing the agreement allows the agency to commence expansion of trusted travellers programs to third countries “on a small scale” while meeting previous commitments, the notes say.

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In February 2011, European Commission officials expressed an interest in a trusted travellers initiative with Canada and offered their support for the Canada-Netherlands proposal.

Under the draft plan, citizens of Canada and the Netherlands who are members of their own country’s trusted traveller program would be eligible to apply to the other’s domestic program. Applicants would undergo criminal, immigration and customs checks.

In the first phase, Canadian members would be allowed to join the Dutch program.

In a second phase, Dutch citizens would first be permitted to apply to the border service agency’s Canpass Air program, which currently allows permanent residents and citizens of Canada and the United States to enter Canada through nine major airports by looking into a camera that recognizes their irises as proof of identity.

At a later stage, Dutch members would be eligible to join Nexus, jointly administered by the Canadian and U.S. border agencies for speedier travel to those countries.

The border agency notes say Nexus could be used to forge trilateral agreements between Canada, the U.S. and other interested countries.

In addition, Canada is looking to existing international alliances as avenues for trusted traveller initiatives.

The notes indicate Canada might deepen its participation in an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation program for business travellers. Canada is also part of the Five Country Conference – along with the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand – whose leaders have committed to exploring a “multilateral trusted traveller framework.”

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