© Reuters/Kevin LamarqueU.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper shake hands after speaking to reporters following their meeting at the White House in Washington December 7, 2011.
For many Canadians, border crossings have been a constant source of headaches for several years now. The new border security and trade agreement between Canada and the United States, called the Beyond the Border plan, should bring some relief to businesspeople and regular travellers alike.

At its core, the agreement will go a long way towards streamlining the process of crossing the border, both for people and goods.

The federal government estimates that about $16 billion is lost annually to regulatory red tape and border congestion under the current system, an amount equivalent to about one per cent of Canada's GDP.

In his statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stressed the monumental nature of this new border deal. "These agreements represent the most significant step forward in Canada-U.S. co-operation since the North American Free Trade Agreement."

Indeed, what is at stake is clearly significant. At the moment, about 300,000 people a day cross a border that stretches 8,891 kilometres. Trade between the two countries accounts for more than $1 billion each day, with nearly half of that taking place between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit - the busiest border crossing in North America.

Critics of the deal, however, say that in coming to this agreement, Canadians may be trading away too much personal information in favour of improved commerce. A main tenet of the deal is that both countries will share all data regarding who comes and goes.

Privacy concerns aside, it is important to be aware how these new regulations will affect you.

Canadians made over 21 million same-day visits to the U.S. and back in 2009 alone, often for shopping. The new NEXUS lanes and expedited truck clearances should alleviate some of the congestion at border crossings for those heading across to go bargain hunting.

For those on a tight schedule, another element of this Beyond the Border plan is the promise to measure wait times and post the information to online sources, including Twitter.

There is also the expectation that the promised physical improvements at border crossings, including the goal of moving the crossing stations further away from bridges, will speed things up.

However, with entry and exit dates now recorded and shared automatically between both customs agencies, the days of fudging the length of a personal visit in order to bring more merchandise back will be over.

When on a connecting flight through the U.S., travellers whose bags have been cleared in Canada will not need to have them cleared a second time - they will go right through to their connecting flight.

For those Canadians who prefer to flee to sunny Florida, where Canucks spent 47,448,000 nights in 2009, it might be worthwhile to sign up for a NEXUS pass in order to make it easier to travel during the winter months.

The sharing of entry and exit data could raise red flags if snowbirds are making consistent trips back and forth. As part of the Beyond the Border plan, both governments will be increasing promotion of the NEXUS pass, in hopes of enrolling more regular, non-business travellers.

In an interview with the CBC's Evan Solomon, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said that border security and improved economic relations go hand in hand.

"We want to do everything we can to keep the bad guys out but allow legitimate trade and commerce to go forth on both sides of the border," he said.

The key feature of this new agreement, as it pertains to those in the import/export business, will be the expansion of programs that speed up border crossing for trusted traders and their goods. The key elements are:

The implementation of new "cleared once, accepted twice" pre-clearance policies for goods being imported to Canada or the United States from abroad. This means that goods being imported to North America at a designated port will be cleared for customs there and won't have to go through a second clearing at a land crossing.

The creation of a "single window" to electronically submit the required documentation to both countries.

Transparency in border fees and tariffs in order to instill greater faith in cross-border commerce.

The harmonization and improvement of both countries' trusted trader programs, especially with regards to companies who have invested in security initiatives along their entire supply chain and have good compliance records.

Consumer health products already approved in the United States could get faster approval in Canada as regulatory bodies will share information.

In announcing the new plan, U.S. President Barack Obama made a point of saying that small business owners in both Canada and the U.S. often have their first contact with trading on the global market by doing business with their respective neighbours. To better facilitate small businesses who do cross-border business:

The NEXUS program for trusted travellers, which has 600,000 existing members, 400,000 of whom are Canadian, will be improved, in the hope of speeding it up.

NEXUS lanes at specific border crossings will be added in order to further decrease wait times.

Low-value shipment thresholds will be harmonized and the exemption from North American Free Trade Agreement Certificate of Origin requirements will be increased to $2,500.

Customs officials in both countries will attempt to process these shipments on the day of arrival.

The sharing of information between regulatory bodies will mean Canadian retailers will be able to sell popular health-care products at the same time as their American counterparts, hopefully discouraging cross-border shopping in that sector.

The establishment of the new Integrated Cargo Security Strategy is expected to expedite truck traffic between the two countries.

By 2014, all cargo to be transported by truck will be inspected at the port where it enters the U.S. or Canada, and so won't have to be checked a second time when crossing the Canada-U.S. border.

In Canada, new examination facilities will be built in Vancouver and Halifax.