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Tracking the U.S.-Canada Border Shutdown and Reawakening: Trends from the Midwest on the COVID-19 Pandemic's Impact on the Bilateral Movement of People and Goods

On a given day, in normal times, an average of $2 billion in goods and services travels between the United States and Canada. In the middle of much of that activity: the Midwest’s states and their neighboring Canadian provinces. But much of this cross-border movement was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the border being closed in March 2020 to all but essential workers and trade. A reawakening of the border is one useful way of measuring a return to economic normalcy and recovery.
With that in mind, The Council of State Governments' Midwestern Legislative Conference —  through the work of its MLC Midwest-Canada Relations Committee —  is regularly analyzing U.S. Department of Transportation data to track trends on how many passenger vehicles and trucks are crossing at the Midwest's land border ports in Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota. Here are the latest findings based on an analysis of this cross-border movement.


Passenger vehicle crossings: Preciptious drops seen in year-over-year numbers for April

The three Midwestern states with land border ports with Canada — Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota — lost more than 90 percent of their passenger vehicle traffic from April 2020 compared to April 2019. The partial border closure has hit communities that rely on revenues from vacationers, cross-border shoppers, and people attending sporting events and concerts.
While Canada opened its border early in June for reunification of immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, the border remains closed to other travelers until at least July 21 (border restrictions have been reviewed/renewed every 30 days).


Truck crossings: Biggest decline in activity occurring in Detroit-Windsor area

Trucks carry goods between the U.S. and Canada, some as finished products and others as components in supply chains. While truck crossings have not slowed to the same extent as passenger vehicle crossings, the decline is significant, especially in the Detroit-Windsor area. The Ambassador Bridge between the two cities is the busiest commercial crossing in North America.
In Michigan, truck crossings were down by almost 50 percent in April 2020 (when compared to crossings in April 2019) and by more than half at the Detroit crossing — from 127,000 in April 2019 to just under 61,000 this year. Minnesota, with seven commercial crossings, and North Dakota, which now has 18 commercial crossings, also saw declines, but not to the same extent as Michigan.
Bilateral trade slowed down in part because the pandemic caused a significant decrease in demand.  Many people stayed home and were not purchasing products other than food and other essentials. Additionally, much of the decline in truck crossings in Michigan, particularly at Detroit, is due to temporary factory closures. The Big Three automakers shut their assembly plants in March, reopening two months later, but with fewer shifts. A number of parts suppliers also closed, as did the Big Three’s own parts plants, and all of this led to a major reduction in commercial cross-border traffic in Michigan.


Analysis done by Ilene Grossman, CSG Midwest assistant director.


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