(Jan. 7) Some companies in Canada and the U.S. are attempting to fill the gaps the North American Free Trade Agreement was supposed to address when it took effect 10 years ago.

The world, you see, is, according to some utopia dwellers, nothing but a big, happy, global handshake in a field of daisies.
Life, as it turns out, is messier outside the drippy saccharine realm of utopia.

It turns out that there are governments, nations, cultures and economic strata that are not all created equal. Each government seems bent on doing things its own way, creating artificial and often completely arbitrary roadblocks to foreign competitors.

When it comes to regulations, most countries have the same standards, even if they set up their own labyrinthine systems for meeting those standards.

Helping to bridge those gaps and achieving a seamlessness that NAFTA was ostensibly created to achieve appears to be the thinking behind a task force that the Ottawa-based Canadian Produce Marketing Association launched in late December.

CPMA seems perfectly suited to the task. After all, it already has spun off the Dispute Resolution Corp., an organization modeled somewhat on the principles of the U.S. Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act that provides a kind of safety net for creditors seeking overdue payments.

The DRC, in its three years, has been impressive in its performance in the U.S. and Canada. That it has, for all practical purposes, the weight of the Canadian government behind it certainly doesn’t hurt.

The new task force has nine representatives from retail, import/export and grower-shipper communities that do business in both countries. All nine have impressive credentials and a desire to see what they call “harmonization” between the countries, in terms of regulation implementation and enforcement.

But, again, wasn’t NAFTA supposed to smooth things out, not only between the U.S. and Canada, but with Mexico, as well?

Well, yes and no: Yes, it was supposed to. No, it didn’t.

“NAFTA was supposed to do a lot of things, and I’m not sure it has,” said Danny Dempster, CPMA president. “What you’re seeing, of course, are differences in biosecurity, pesticide registrations. You have different approaches on organics. Then you have the labeling issue. And our members want harmonization.”

In other words, don’t sit back and rely on government bureaucratic microbes to go against their nature. Bureaucrats, after all, were created to perpetuate the act of waiting for something to happen.

The task force, in essence, is doing what the DRC was created to do: Allow businessmen with some experience in dealing with government to take the issues that matter most to the appropriate governmental agencies.

“We have a pretty good handle on many of these things,” Dempster said. “We see certain things developing in the U.S., and we tend to learn about them because our exporters tend to look to us to see how we can deal with this. These guys do business in both countries, and they have to be on top of the way things are handled in both countries.”

In other words, it’s up to the private sector to make traffic across borders flow more smoothly.

It’s only natural. The U.S. and Canada already have the longest undefended border on the planet. The two countries’ markets, cultures and histories are intertwined. In spite of recent political squabbles, each side knows that there is a common interest in working closely in matters of trade.

“We’re already aware of the differences in regulations,” Dempster said. “You have Canadian safety and security agencies, and you have similar agencies in the U.S. We have members in both countries. We’re aware of the two countries’ approaches to the same issues. These differences are potentially problematic for our industry. Something has to be done.”

The group will meet for the first time in early February at the CPMA convention in Calgary, Alberta.

Perhaps the first order of business will be to include the third NAFTA partner, Mexico, in the proceedings.

Dempster insists Mexico hasn’t been forgotten. In fact, he compares getting the task force off the ground in Canada and the U.S. first to the launching of the DRC, which expanded into Mexico in earnest only after it had sunk its roots in the U.S. and Canada.

Each country shares an interest in providing fresh, safe fruits and vegetables to its citizens. It would seem that providing a standardized approach to solving basic problems such as nutrition labeling, handling practices, inspections and security regulations would be first on anyone’s priority list.

The CPMA task force appears to be one way to cut through red tape entangling both countries.

In a perfect world, this concept would work.

Now, if government in both countries will only let it.