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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

The governments of the United States and Canada recently announced the continuation of the border closure at least Jan. 21 to prevent the spread of COVID 19. The end of this time period will mark the 10th full month that the border has been closed to all but trade and essential workers.
In normal times, an average of $2 billion in goods and services travels between the United States and Canada, much of it from and through the region that includes the Midwestern states and neighboring Canadian provinces.  While trade has nearly bounced back to pre-COVID levels, travel and tourism is virtually non-existent.  Workers filling essential jobs and citizens of one country living in the other country have an easier time crossing the border, but that is a small percentage of the number of people who crossed the border just a year ago.
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: Decline in year-over-year crossings continues

The dramatic year-over-year decline in passenger vehicle traffic continued into the late summer in the three Midwestern states that have land border ports with Canada: Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota. In September 2020, in all three states, the number of crossings was down by between 83 percent and nearly 94 percent compared to crossings in September 2019.
However, there was an increase in passenger vehicle crossings in Michigan and Ontario from August to September, as well as increases in passenger vehicle border crossings generally since the late spring. The partial closure of the border continues to hurt the economies of 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 non-essential.
The city of Windsor, a busy border crossing with Detroit, has been particularly hard hit by the loss of travel and tourism. In December, the government of Ontario awarded the city more than $19 million in phase-two funding through the federal-provincial partnership, the Safe Restart Program. Windsor is hal -owner of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, along with the city of Detroit. 
The tunnel is a busy crossing for passenger vehicles (4 million use the tunnel in most years) and an important revenue source for Windsor. COVID relief funding has gone to all 444 of the province’s municipalities, and additional funding went to a much smaller number of those with significant 2020 budget deficits, including the city of Windsor.
 

 

 

 

Truck crossings: Rebound in truck crossings continues through late summer

Trucks carry goods between the United States and Canada, some as finished products and others as components in supply chains. Because trade is permitted under existing border closure restrictions, truck crossings did not slow to the same extent as passenger vehicle crossings and are very near the volume seen in fall 2019.
While truck crossings are not the only factors of the state of trade between Canada and the U.S., they are an important measure of the health of the trading relationship. They vary month by month and season to season, but in the early fall, they indicated that trade continued at a strong pace.
In Minnesota, truck crossings in September 2020 exceeded the volume in September 2019. In North Dakota and Michigan, the year-over-year declline in truck traffic was 0.6 percent and 1.0 percent, respectively.
 

 

 
Analysis done by Ilene Grossman, CSG Midwest assistant director.

 

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