Reopening the Canadian border needs to be done the smart way

Reopening the Canadian border needs to be done the smart way
© Aaron Schwartz

As noted in the press across North America this month, the United States and Canada extended the deadline for reopening the border through late June. Over the past two months, border flows, which total $2 billion daily, have been limited to essential travel and commercial traffic. This window presents the opportunity for American and Canadian officials to think in earnest about reopening the border in a responsible manner.

But how exactly can they reopen a border amid a pandemic with various coronavirus metrics and economic interests at play? The answer is to do so very carefully. Here are recommendations inspired by conversations with border stakeholders in the United States and Canada.

Rather than a “one size fits all” approach, the countries should consider a cross border regional approach. Reopening an incredibly diverse border of 5,500 miles is extremely complicated. A cross border approach would be like regional control boards reporting back to state governments and would count on states, provinces, and regional border operators to share information on plans, metrics, and progress, reporting the same data to those federal officials who have jurisdiction over the border.

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The United States and Canada should utilize the Regulatory Cooperation Council to reduce unnecessary regulatory differences related to medical supplies and other key sectors. Both countries have separate regulatory regimes related to medical supplies and transportation. Working across different regulatory regimes costs both time and money. Given the very integrated nature of the countries, there is common interest in tackling some aspects collectively. The Regulatory Cooperation Council can be activated to align the recovery efforts when it makes sense.

Given that the United States and Canada may include “Buy American” or “Buy Canadian” provisions into the next rounds of stimulus funding in the countries, American lawmakers must add a Canadian exemption to “Buy American” legislation, while Canadian lawmakers must add an American exemption to “Buy Canadian” legislation. Protectionist policies could be popular in difficult economic times, but they ultimately harm job growth and business in both countries. These exemptions will secure prosperity from one of the largest economic relationships in the world.

The United States and Canada should also invest in technology to ensure that border crossers are healthy and promote recovery. There is going to be a certain need for border patrol officers to determine whether anyone who enters either nation does not carry the coronavirus once the border reopens. Stakeholders also noted that some technology used for testing, such as temperature taking, already does exist at the border.

Officials should invest in 21st century border technology in their efforts to efficiently process people and shipments once the border reopens, which would spur the recovery in the United States and Canada. Both countries should also take action to start touchless processing at the border as the world waits for a coronavirus vaccine to be widely available.

Officials have the next few weeks to ensure that one of the most essential economic relationships in the world stays on course in the recovery from the coronavirus. Leaders must get the border reopening right to strongly position both countries for great success in the years ahead.

Kathryn Bryk Friedman is a global fellow at the Wilson International Center for Scholars and a research associate professor at the University of Buffalo.