Farmers on both sides of the Canada-United States border still have access to their best market — each other.
That’s despite a two-way temporary ban on non-essential travel to slow the spread of COVID-19, which was expected to be implemented by March 20.
In 2018 Canada was the U.S.’s largest agricultural export customer purchasing $25 billion (U.S.) of products, while the U.S. was Canada’s largest agricultural export customer with sales totalling $23 billion (U.S.).
Moreover, the U.S. is Canada’s top export market and Canada is usually among U.S.’s top export markets.
Early last week there was growing pressure from some provincial governments to close the border as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continued to rise, along with speculation the U.S. was a a source for the disease.
On March 16 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada was closing its borders to non-Canadians with several exceptions, including Americans. However, he stressed incoming Americans, as well as Canadians returning to Canada, would be urged to self-isolate for 14 days.
But on March 18 Trudeau announced Canada and the U.S. had agreed to stop non-essential travel between the two countries, while allowing trade and commerce to continue.
“It means travellers will no longer be permitted to cross the border between Canada and the United States for things like recreation and tourism, but essential travel will continue unimpeded,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told reporters March 18. “We have recognized… the critical importance of maintaining supply lines between our two countries, but it’s also important to recognize that Canadians and Americans cross this border every day to do essential work… and these will not be impacted.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said trade must continue.
“We understand on either side of the border the last thing the Canadian and American economies need right now is another blow,” Freeland said.
“There is tremendous clarity on both sides that trade needs to continue and essential workers need to continue to cross the border to do their jobs.”
In a March 17 news release Fertilizer Canada called on the Canadian government to keep the border open.
“Governments must ensure that the Canadian border remains open to the movement of fertilizer in order for farmers to receive their product and meet their spring seeding requirements,” the release said.
In an email March 19 Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the continued movement of agri-food products, both at home and abroad, is essential to Canada’s plan to manage COVID-19.
“We have been clear that the movement of goods over borders will not be restricted,” she wrote.
“Truck drivers, plane crews and others who are transporting goods are essential to our supply chains, and as long as they are not showing symptoms, they are exempted from travel bans.”
Questions are being raised about how those workers will protect themselves and their families from COVID-19.
Halifax’s Chronicle Herald reported last week truckers might not be covered by medical insurance if they become infected.
A Halifax insurance broker told the newspaper the insurance companies he deals with aren’t covering COVID-19.
“We have a couple of companies that will do special risk, but that’s expensive,” the unnamed broker said.
According to social media reports it’s getting harder for truckers to find facilities open for showers and meals.
Some restaurants are restricted to ‘drive-thru,’ which semi-trailers can’t use because of their size.
Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union is demanding governments make farmers’ markets an essential service, instead of forcing them to close because of COVID-19.
“As long as grocery stores remain open to the public, so should farmers’ markets,” the NFU said in a March 19 news release. “We are privileged to live in a country that has the capacity to move towards diverse self-sufficiency — a key tenet of food sovereignty. Now more than ever we urge all levels of government to acknowledge the importance of localized food systems.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $83 billion in aid March 18, including assistance to lenders.
The Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) will allow the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC) to provide more than $10 billion of additional support, largely targeted to small and medium-size businesses, a federal document says.
BDC and EDC are co-operating with private sector lenders to co-ordinate on credit solutions for individual businesses, including in sectors such as oil and gas, air transportation and tourism.
“The near-term credit available to farmers and the agri-food sector will also be increased through Farm Credit Canada (FCC).
FCC didn’t have details at press time, but an official added it’s working with the government on its COVID-19 plan.
“We’ve limited walk-in service to FCC offices at this time with the current emphasis on social distancing,” Paula Kohl, FCC’s director of corporate communication, wrote in an email. “We’re offering customers service by phone, online and by appointment, where necessary. If customers do need to meet in person, our employees will screen them with the standard questions suggested by the Public Health Agency of Canada.”
Last week Trudeau repeated the government is going to do whatever is necessary to help citizens get through COVID-19.
“We’re going to come through this together,” he told reporters March 19 outside his Ottawa home. “Whether you need more time to pay back a student loan, or whether you are a farmer who is worried about his income, we are here for you and we will continue to do everything we can to help you.”
Canadians must stay home to limit further spread of COVID-19, says Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
“We all have to get it right, and get it right, right now because the price of not doing so is too high,” she told reporters March 19.
The same day Italy recorded more deaths due to the virus than those in China where the pandemic began.
“We don’t just need to flatten the (COVID-19 disease) curve, we need to plank it and we need everyone from government to communities, families and individuals to work together,” she said.