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Tracking the U.S.-Canada Border Shutdown and Recovery: 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; starting in March 2020, the border was closed to all but essential workers and trade. A revitalization of border activity 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: Big drop in year-over-year numbers, but an increase in crossings between April 2020 and May 2020

A dramatic year-over-year decline in passenger vehicle traffic continues in the three Midwestern states that have land border ports with Canada: Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota. In May 2020, in all three states, the number of crossings was down more than 90 percent compared to crossings in May 2019. However, there was one sign of a border revitalization: Crossings in May in all three Midwestern states were higher than they were in April, about 25 percent in Michigan and Minnesota and more than 40 percent in North Dakota (see table below).
The partial closure of the border has hit communities that rely on revenues from vacationers, cross-border shoppers, and people attending sporting events and concerts, since those are the types of cross-border travel considered to be nonessential. So while passenger vehicle traffic increased, it was not due to vacationers or shoppers. More likely, the increase was due to business travel, as more factories and businesses reopened or increased production.
On July 16, the border closure was officially renewed for another 30 days. That means the border will remain closed to nonessential travel until at least Aug. 20.




Truck crossings: Biggest year-over-year decline in activity continues in Detroit-Windsor area, but uptick in activity seen between April and May of this year

Trucks carry goods between the United States 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 has been 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 45 percent in May 2020 compared to May 2019, but the number of truck crossings increased over April. The auto plants, which were shut for nearly two months, began to reopen in mid- May, which helped bring more truck traffic to the Michigan crossings. 
Minnesota, with seven commercial crossings, and North Dakota, which now has 18 commercial crossings, also saw year-over-year declines, but not to the same extent as Michigan. North Dakota had a slight increase in truck crossings in May compared to the previous month; Minnesota experienced a slight decline.
Bilateral trade has slowed down in part because the pandemic caused a significant decrease in demand.  Additionally, much of the decline in truck crossings in Michigan, particularly at Detroit, was due to temporary factory closures. We are likely to begin to see improvements in cross-border truck traffic and trade when June data on crossings are released. The Canadian Border Services Agency recently reported that for the week beginning at the end of June, truck traffic had returned to levels similar to the previous year.


Analysis done by Ilene Grossman, CSG Midwest assistant director.


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