Brock co-led group offers plan for reopening Canada-U.S. border

Charles Conteh, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Niagara Community Observatory at Brock University, co-led a bi-national group that made recommendations to Ottawa and Washington on opening the Canada-U.S. border. 

Normally, more than $2 billion in trade flows between Canada and the United States every day.

But for the past two months COVID-19 restrictions have limited border passage to the provision of essential services, with no indication of when it will open up.

When that does happen, it has to be done responsibly and creatively so there’s a “seamless” flow of trade between the two countries.

“We’re not pushing for the border to reopen: health comes first,” said Conteh. “All of our recommendations are framed within the context of ‘when it is safe to do so,’ ‘when it makes sense to do so,’ how we responsibly proceed, and how we can take a multi-phased approach tailored to specific regions.”

The observatory, with the University at Buffalo and World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara, led a workshop earlier this month looking at how current border restrictions are impacting industry in Canada and the U.S.

Representatives from industry associations, economic development agencies, the public sector, corporations engaged in cross-border commerce, bridge operators, academia and the policy community gave input into reopening the border “in a responsible manner.”

The resulting strategies are contained in a list of seven recommendations subsequently released by the Binational Prosperity Initiative, a partnership between the observatory and the University at Buffalo.

Conteh said it’s important officials from both countries take a “tailored approach” moving forward.

“We have to move from a one-size-fits-all opening of the border from coast to coast, to thinking in a more tailored way, because the Niagara-Buffalo region will have different needs and particularities than the Windsor-Detroit region, for example.”

He stressed economic recovery campaigns urging people to “buy American” or “buy Canadian” shouldn’t be too exclusionary.

“Canada and the U.S. are in the same sandbox together and make stuff together,” he said. “There is a complex value chain across different sectors of industry, so any ‘Buy American’ should have a Canadian exemption, which would be us saying essentially ‘Buy Canadian and American.’

“Do not exclude Canada in any stimulus packages, because our economic destinies are bound together.”

The recommendations have been sent to policy officials and politicians at the federal, provincial and state levels.

They include:

• Take a cross-border regional approach to reopening the border, which would rely on states, provinces and regional border operators to share information on plans, metrics and progress, reporting the same to federal officials who have jurisdiction over the border;

• Canada and the U.S. should use one regulatory regime — the Regulatory Co-operation Council — to align COVID-19 regulations especially related to medical supplies, logistics and transportation;

• When enacting economic stimulus packages, U.S. legislators should incorporate a Canadian exemption into “Buy American” legislation and Canadian legislators should incorporate a U.S. one into “Buy Canadian” legislation;

• To aid economic recovery in both the U.S. and Canada, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement should become active on July 1;

• The U.S. and Canada should invest in border technology such as touchless thermometers to ensure border crossers are COVID-free;

• The U.S. and Canada should expand the marketing of NEXUS as a solution to touchless processing at the border;

• Border operators, such as the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority and Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, should receive government assistance to maintain operations.

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