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Canada, U.S. business group urges cross-border teamwork on post-coronavirus response


WASHINGTON ⁠— Travel between Canada and the United States is still restricted but businesses, diplomats and communities that depend on cross-border traffic are urging the two countries to join forces in a co-operative approach to thriving in the new post-pandemic global economy.

The Washington-based Canadian American Business Council launched a new online campaign Thursday to convince states, provinces and federal officials on both sides of the border to team up in their battle back from the impact of COVID-19.

The primary goals of the council’s “North American Rebound” campaign are to encourage Canada and the U.S. to work together to secure personal protective equipment, replenish and maintain each other’s medical stockpiles and defend critical cross-border supply chains.

Expanding market opportunities in both countries would speed recovery efforts and better equip both to compete in a world that promises to be dramatically different, said Scotty Greenwood, the council’s CEO and a veteran of the perpetual battle to represent Canadian interests stateside and U.S. interests in Canada.

In many ways, the effort is an early hedge against the perils of protectionism, not only from the famously insular Trump administration.

“It’s not just the U.S.,” Greenwood said in an interview.

“There’s a political tendency ⁠— which is understandable, but it doesn’t really work ⁠— to say, ‘We’re going to be self sufficient, we’re going to reshore everything and we’re going to go it alone, we don’t want to be dependent on somebody.’ When you think about the Canada-U.S. context, it’s not efficient, and it’s not workable.”

Diplomats, business experts and scholars who specialize in Canada-U.S. matters have been virtually unanimous over the last two months in their praise for the mutual ban on non-essential travel, which since mid-March has been aimed at curbing the spread of the virus without impairing the movement of trade, business and essential workers.

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Early kinks in the system, largely the result of border guards’ having broad discretion to determine what constitutes “essential” traffic, have largely now been smoothed out, said Mark Agnew, senior director of international policy with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

One of the next challenges will be dealing with congestion when the border reopens, as well as ensuring adequate testing and tracing of the contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19, Agnew said.

“As commercial activity increases, border wait times are a potential pain point if staffing levels are not ready to meet increased demand,” he said. “Economic activity is also not a lightswitch; companies need lead-in time to prepare.”


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