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Windsor, Detroit business groups call for U.S. to open border


Windsor Star

By Trevor Wilhelm 

With businesses, jobs and social connections on the line, Windsor and Detroit business groups have joined together in calling for the U.S. to follow Canada’s example and reopen the border to non-essential travel.

Sandy K. Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said Monday that Detroit and Windsor are part of “one of the most highly integrated bi-national economies in the world.”

“Those of us who have the luxury of living on this international border know the importance of not just business trade but social interaction across the border,” he said. “We probably have a heightened sense of the importance compared to maybe some other parts of the country. And we see the economic impacts more readily than other parts of the country. So we hope by adding our voice to this that folks will pay attention.”

The Detroit Regional Chamber, Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce and Canada-U.S. Business Association (CUSBA) have issued a joint statement urging the U.S. to “reciprocate” Canada’s recent announcement that it will ease pandemic border restrictions.

It really impacts the retail, restaurant and hospitality industry the most

“Our respective nations’ social and business fabric are inextricably intertwined — especially in the automotive, mobility, technology and health care sectors,” the three organizations said in the shared statement. “Safely easing border restrictions will aid North American competitiveness in the global marketplace as well as the economic well-being of individuals and businesses in both Canada and the United States.”

Representatives of the Windsor-Essex Chamber of Commerce couldn’t be reached for comment Monday after releasing the joint statement.

CUSBA president Mark High, based in Michigan, said getting the U.S. to ease restrictions is just as important to many Windsor businesses as Canada reopening its borders.

“It’s very vital for the Windsor community in particular for them to get access to the U.S. There are lots of Windsor businesses that are built on the fact that they’re a Detroit a suburb, certainly in automotive but in other things,” he said.

“The Canadians want to come over to get access to their customers and their suppliers.”

Non-essential travel across Canada’s land border has been banned since March 2020. The Canadian government announced last week that it plans to reopen its border to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents starting Aug. 9.

Travellers will have to provide proof that they were fully vaccinated at least 14 days before entering the country. Entry to Canada will also require a negative COVID-19 test.

Following that announcement, the White House declined to commit to reopening its border to Canadians. The American border will remain closed until at least Aug. 21.

That was unexpected, said High.

“The countries generally co-ordinate on things like this,” he said. “So it’s a little surprising that the U.S. wasn’t ready to move forward. Kudos, I guess, to the Canadian government with moving ahead unilaterally anyway. But so often the countries co-ordinate on various levels with diplomatic matters and commercial matters, so it was a bit of a surprise.”

Travel restrictions in place for the last 16 months have caused social and economic devastation on both sides of the border, putting people out of work and separating families.

Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) has taken a huge hit totalling between $27.9 billion and $37.1 billion, according to the joint statement. In 2020, Canada lost between 400,000 and 500,000 jobs.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that each month the border is closed, it costs the U.S. economy $1.5 billion in potential travel exports, the statement said.

Before the pandemic, Canadians spent more than $16 billion a year travelling in the U.S., the business groups said. In 2019, Canadians took more than 20 million trips over the border. In 2020, the number of trips plunged to 4.2 million.

Allowing cross border travel to resume in each direction is necessary to “accelerate the economic recovery in both nations,” the business organizations said.

“It really impacts the retail, restaurant and hospitality industry the most,” said Baruah. “Things like the casinos and the restaurants, places like that, certainly get a good percentage of their business from our neighbours in Ontario. Those are the sectors — small business, retail and hospitality/tourism — that were most negatively impacted by the pandemic and are the ones that kind of need the most assistance now as we come out of the pandemic. So easing the border restrictions would be a step in the right direction.”

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