Business COVID-19 Opinion

Three Ways Canadian Business Owners Can Adapt to CUSMA


On July 1, 2020, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) went into effect, preserving important elements that have been crucial to the long-standing trade relationship between the three member countries. In addition, CUSMA integrates new and updated guidelines to improve what international trade looks like today.

For businesses that rely on provisions from its counterparts abroad, staying on top of, and adhering to, CUSMA’s ever-changing policies is critical. Add to this the fact that, in the wake of a global pandemic, businesses are also focused on recouping lost revenue and avoiding supply chain delays, and it becomes clear that Canada’s business owners could benefit from some general tips to make navigating and adjusting to CUSMA slightly easier.

Assess all trade agreements holistically

While the policies posed by CUSMA are integral to any Canadian business that’s engaged in trade with the United States or Mexico, there are also other potentially applicable trade agreements for business owners to keep top of mind. 

From free trade agreements to foreign investment promotion and protection agreements, to plurilateral and World Trade Organization agreements – now, more than ever, business owners should employ a more holistic approach to engaging in trade, and to ensure that they’re abiding by respective guidelines. 

Communicate regularly with your suppliers – foster those relationships, and don’t be afraid to question their processes or ask why things are the way they are. 

For instance, consider the duties you’re paying on imported goods, or the general expenses you’re incurring due to running a business – and then ask yourself, ‘why?’ Continuing to operate under the assumption that your current supply chain process is as efficient and cost-effective as possible discounts the fact that many trade agreements are constantly refined and updated. 

By taking a step back, staying informed of any trade policy updates, and evaluating your operations from a more comprehensive perspective, you can ensure your business is up and running in the most productive way.

Make the border disappear

For Canadian businesses that rely on international inventory, it’s likely that the closure of the Canada-U.S. border – now, until at least August 21 – has impacted business operations and supply chain management. 

What was once a relatively predictable and timely cross-border shipment process has now become slightly more uncertain. Add to this the nuances of the CUSMA guidelines, and the concept of ‘making the border disappear’ becomes more necessary for Canadian businesses than ever before. 

Business owners that rely on international inventory and, therefore, cross-border shipping should take stock of their existing supply chain and consider how they can streamline the process further. Is there an opportunity to expedite shipping times by removing unnecessary functions within the supply chain process? How can consolidating shipments enhance the customer experience and remove any potential operational obstacles posed by CUSMA?

As business owners, we know that our time is precious. We know that any additional mental or physical effort exerted in one area of the business might mean having to neglect other parts. One way that business owners can free up their time – and hone in on what they do best: growing their business – is to ensure that their supply chain operations are so seamless that they don’t feel obligated to monitor its every function. For some, this might mean having to source a reliable customs brokerage to spearhead this aspect of the business.

Embrace technology for greater efficiency

Technology is becoming increasingly integrated into supply chain operations, making it possible for business owners to conduct previously tedious and manual processes like filling out PDF forms or Excel spreadsheets using new digital platforms with click-to-process efficiency. 

Processes related to cross-border documentation, payments, and purchases can be expedited significantly with technology. Gone are the days of having to download, print, and complete a form by hand – today, all of this can be done through an accessible and entirely online process.

Technology can also provide business owners with a wealth of information right at their fingertips – and typically, in real-time. Especially now, as business owners juggle staying apprised of relevant CUSMA updates alongside managing their business, having digital access to up-to-date information can help them navigate and adapt to these changes with more confidence and greater clarity.

Graham Robins is the President & CEO of BC-headquartered A & A Customs Brokers – North America’s leading cross-border import and export solutions provider with over 40 years’ experience in the industry.
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