Bridging the Trade Divide

Working toward a shared vision, Canada and the U.S. need to make the New International Trade Crossing a top priority

by Colin Robertson and James Blanchard

Ever since Samuel de Champlain and his First Nations guides canoed down the St. Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes, those waterways have been critical in bringing trade, people, and prosperity to the people of both Canada and the United States. For most of our history in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, the only barrier to cross-border migration and trade has been the water itself.

The lakes were once the sites of fierce naval battles, playing a significant role in the sacking of the city of York (today’s Toronto) during the War of 1812. The far-sighted decision to demilitarize the lakes through the 1818 Rush-Bagot Treaty continues to be an important precedent in the negotiation of contemporary disarmament agreements.

The region has long been the cradle of “good neighbourly relations” – particularly with regard to water stewardship. The International Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 was one of the world’s first environmental agreements, and its implementing institution, the International Joint Commission, is a model for bi-national stewardship. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (1972, 1978), along with the Compact (2005) that was signed by the Great Lakes governors and premiers, protects the basin and prevents any future water diversion.

But the 105 million people living in the region today need their respective governments to continue to work together on border issues. To remain the world’s fourth-largest economy, the region needs a second Detroit-Windsor crossing.

The Canada-U.S. Auto Pact of 1965 set the course for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and, subsequently, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Our most integrated trade industry by far, the production and assembly of automobiles is concentrated in the Great Lakes region. This “industry of industries” draws in hundreds of feeder manufacturers in dozens of locations in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.

Although global pressures once put the automotive sector in peril, today, the industry is on the road to recovery, thanks to the collaborative efforts of our federal, provincial, and state governments. It also represents the evolution in North American business from trading separately to making things together.

However, industrial co-operation requires border co-operation.

Before a car is assembled in Michigan and Ontario, the component parts have crisscrossed the border an average of seven times. The Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research recently concluded that 61 per cent of cars or trucks that roll off the assembly line in Ontario are “Made in the U.S.A.” – now that’s making things together!

It is no surprise, then, that the Great Lakes region contains our busiest border crossings, presenting unique challenges for “just-in-time delivery.” The first step toward making the border work better for people across the region should also be the easiest step: We need to make inspection for all government services at each of the region’s crossings available 24/7. Our competition overseas does not work nine to five, and neither can we.

But the top priority has to be the construction of a second bridge between Windsor and Detroit. The 7,000 trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge daily contain more than a quarter of the goods traded between Canada and the U.S. Any interruption in traffic on this 80-year-old, privately owned bridge means layoffs – thousands in the first day, and tens of thousands (stretching south to the Carolinas) by Day 2. Resiliency, national security, and the national interests of both countries require us to build a second crossing – the New International Trade Crossing.

We also need to invest in the crossings and customs plazas between Port Huron and Sarnia, Ont., and along the Niagara River from Buffalo-Fort Erie to Lewiston-Queenston. Rail and waterways are cost-efficient and produce low emissions. They need our attention, too.

For nearly 200 years, Canada and the U.S. have enjoyed good relations across our land and maritime borders, and the commensurate benefits in jobs and growth that have resulted from our close ties. Now we need to meet the challenges of the 21st century by thinking like a region and making sure that a choked-up border doesn’t get in the way of our shared vision and mutual prosperity.