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U.S. and Canadian officials have reached an agreement to keep the 5,525-mile border closed to nonessential traffic until June 21, even as parts of the countries begin to reopen.
At the White House on May 19, President Donald Trump expressed an eagerness to allow the border to return to normal.
“We’re both going to want to do the normal,” Trump told reporters. “We want to get back everything. We want to get back to normal.”
Similar border restrictions between the U.S. and Mexico were set to expire, but late May 19, the Department of Homeland Security announced a 30-day extension along its southern border.
“We have been in contact with our Canadian and Mexican counterparts, and they also agree that extending these restrictions is prudent at this time. We appreciate our partnership with Mexico and Canada in ensuring that North America is working together to combat the ongoing global pandemic,” DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada’s provincial leaders wanted to continue the measures. He made the announcement in Ottawa, speaking outside the prime minister’s residence.
“This is an important decision that will keep people in both of our countries safe,” Trudeau said May 19. “These are ongoing questions. We’ve given ourselves another month before we have to have the right answers to those questions on nonessential travel.
“But even now, we know we need to do more to ensure that travelers who are coming back from overseas or the United States as Canadians are properly followed up, properly isolated and don’t become further vectors for the spread of COVID-19.”
Without an extension, the current agreement was set to expire May 21.
Essential cross-border workers such as health care professionals, airline crews and truck drivers still are permitted to cross. Truck drivers are critical as they move food and medical goods in both directions.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Canada is the United States’ largest export market for agricultural and agricultural-related products with exports valued at $25 billion in 2018. That figure accounts for more than 15% of total U.S. agricultural exports to the world.
Trudeau said once the pandemic eases, he believes there will be a need for those crossing the border to be tested before they can enter the country. “The federal government has put forward a proposal that recognizes that increased contact tracing and increased testing will be key to a reopened Canadian economy,” he said. “We need to make sure, right across the country, that we have a strong capacity to respond wherever there is a flare-up of COVID-19,” Trudeau said, “and that means having significant resources at the availability of all regions and provinces. We need to have strong measures in place, and we’re looking at that closely.”
Regarding Mexico, a videoconference was held May 18 between border officials from both nations to discuss the situation. Laredo, Texas, Mayor Pete Saenz told Transport Topics officials on both sides favored the extension.
“There is a medical concern, yes. But we depend so heavily on Mexico. We need tourists and people from Mexico,” he said. “Our economy is supported by the tourists, 30% to 40% is dependent on Mexicans coming here and shopping. I am in favor of it, but hopefully this will end and correct itself so we can see Mexican shoppers back in our stores.”
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