Even as the U.S.-Canada border shut down earlier this year to all but trade and the movement of essential workers, the strength and durability of the relationship between the two countries was on display.
“[They] worked as partners to restrict, but not [totally] close, the border,” Chris Sands, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said during a May webinar for state and provincial legislators.
This cooperative effort (which included Mexico, via a separate border agreement with the United States), he said, was “historic.” And looking ahead, as the border begins to “reawaken,” he views the North American trading relationship as potentially more important than ever before.
According to Sands, one of the likely takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic will be a push to change supply chains for essential goods such as medical equipment and supplies — away from producers in markets such as China to those in North America. Not only will this be a deliberate policy shift among governments, he said, some manufacturers “will no longer want to put their supply chains at risk.”
On a given day, an average of $2 billion in goods and services travels between the United States and Canada. In the middle of much of that cross-border activity: the Midwest’s states and their neighboring Canadian provinces.
The month of March 2020 will be remembered as a historic one in that relationship.
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the two countries closed all nonessential traffic at the border. Though these rules did not apply to most trade, automakers (central to cross-border trade and supply chains in this region) subsequently shut their factories.
Somewhat overshadowed by these extraordinary actions, though, was the start of an important new chapter in U.S.-Canada trade relations. On March 13, the Parliament of Canada approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, thus ensuring that this successor to the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement will go into effect. (The USMCA already had received formal approval by the U.S. and Mexican governments.)
Legislation in nearly every state in the region provides a purchasing preference to products manufactured or produced using recycled content. However, the extent of the preference varies, including whether the state has statutory language that spells out a price preference for bidders who offer recycled products.
Indiana, Kansas, Michigan and Minnesota are examples of states that specify a particular price preference. Indiana offers a price preference of between 10 and 15 percent for products containing recycled content, while Kansas provides a 5 percent price preference.
As of September, Illinois and Minnesota were among the 15 U.S. states that banned all drivers from using handheld devices, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. These are all primary enforcement laws, which means that police can stop drivers for violating the ban; no other infraction needs to have occurred. (With secondary offenses, officers must have first stopped the driver for another violation.)
Recognizing the increasingly important role that state and local officials play in international relations, some U.S. lawmakers say it’s time to boost federal support for these activities. Their idea: Create a new Office of Subnational Diplomacy within the U.S. State Department.
Opposition to a proposed pipeline that would bring more oil from Canada to refineries around the United States has come from many directions since being introduced more than a decade ago. Landowners and Native American tribes along the route have fought the Keystone XL proposal. Environmental groups have said it would trample on sensitive land, endanger water resources and enlarge the nation’s carbon footprint.
The mix of electric power generation has changed dramatically over the past decade or so in much of the 11-state Midwest — more wind power and more natural gas plants, for example, and much less reliance on coal. Will the shift be even more dramatic in the years ahead?
That is the vision laid out in new legislative proposals this year in states such as Illinois and Minnesota, as well as in recent plans unveiled by some utility companies themselves.
After years of court cases, requests for proposals and bidding, work is underway for a new bridge at the busiest commercial crossing along the U.S.-Canada border. Approximately 7,000 trucks — carrying goods worth millions of dollars — already pass the border most days at Detroit and Windsor, Ont. All of these crossings are done now via the privately owned, 90-year-old Ambassador Bridge.
But with the scheduled opening of the Gordie Howe International Bridge in late 2024, a second option will be available for U.S. and Canadian firms.
The bridge (named after the Hall of Fame Canadian hockey player who starred for the Detroit Red Wings) will provide larger, modern ports of entry and customs facilities, while incorporating new technologies to speed up border screenings. And with two bridges up and running, the movement of commercial goods will not be as affected by accidents or other incidents at the Detroit-Windsor crossing.
From the pork products that come from Kansas to the soaps made in Ohio, the specter of retaliatory tariffs looms large among the Midwest’s economic sectors that rely on trade with Canada and Mexico. Many of the affected industry groups continued in early 2019 to try to get their voices heard among U.S. trade leaders.
One of their latest outreach efforts: A letter signed by a diverse group of more than 40 organizations — including the National Corn Growers Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Pork Producers Council and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers — urging a return to “zero-tariff North American trade.”