At a time when the border is closed, the North Country Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a virtual conversation with a key Canadian official to discuss cross-border issues.
Nearly 100 people from both sides of the border tuned in to hear form the Acting Consul General of Canada in New York on cross-border economic, social and political relations. Khawar Nasim says he speaks frequently with the local chamber about legislation and the movement of goods across the border and this is a time to reinforce those conversations. “This is a time of enormous uncertainty for all of us on both sides of the border and, and many of us feel unmoored and unsure about what the future holds for us. And I think that events like today's are what grounds us and what define us and what allow us to get to some degree of comfort in the face of this enormous uncertainty. You know, I think that this is why this conversation is essential. The Canada-U.S. relationship is the closest in the world. No two countries share the level of integration and partnership that we do. We need to promote and protect that relationship. It is a great thing and it is something that sustains both of us.”
Nasim began by describing how COVID-19 has affected Canada. “We see the numbers every day in the news in the United States. Let me share with you that in Canada we have over 190,000 confirmed cases and over 7,000 deaths. We have over 8 million Canadians who have applied for what's called the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. That's roughly 20% in a country of 37 million. We've put in a number of programs to assist Canadians and our deficit will now reach its highest level in 20 years. So the economic response that we have put forward is the largest single program that we have put in place since the Second World War.”
The Consul General says since NAFTA was introduced the cross-border economy has grown threefold and the newly negotiated USMCA will provide security and stability to the shared economy. “There is no debate in Canada as to the merits and benefits of free trade. The USMCA is a good document. It addresses concerns. It modernizes the agreement. It's a progressive agreement. And you know, it was not an easy haul but over two and a half years, we were able to get this agreement over the over the fence over the finish line where it's been ratified by all three countries now and we'll go into implementation in July.”
Chamber President Garry Douglas read a number of questions that were submitted in advance due to the virtual nature of the seminar. “How can we best recover together? Is reshoring of manufacturing from Asia and other parts of the world a shared opportunity potentially?”
Nasim: “It's both an opportunity and a risk. We have to ensure that we don't damage the relationship between Canada and the United States.”
One submitted question pondered the continuing closure of the Canadian border. “From Canada's perspective what metrics or conditions will be required to relax the cross border restrictions after June 21? Is there any potential for regional differentiations or allowance of near border travel by Canadians into regions like the North Country where the health situation is positive?”
Nasim: “The situation is being driven by a consideration of the safety and security of and the ability to reduce the transmission of the disease. And you know the governments on both sides are going to be very careful about international travel. These are the kinds of discussions that are happening on an ongoing basis.”
Reuters reported on Tuesday that the U.S. and Canada will likely extend the non-essential travel ban, currently set to expire on June 21st, to the end of July.