Trade and tourism between the U.S. and Canada fell sharply last month. Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry argues misguided security measures are doing our economy in.
As you may know, the national recession is worse in Michigan than anywhere else. And now for the bad news. Washington is hurting our economy further by choking off trade with Canada.
And frankly, our politicians in this state haven't been doing much to help matters. If you weren't aware of this, I wouldn't be too hard on yourself. For years, this has been one of the most important and yet most neglected stories in this part of the world.
Ironically, it also represents possibly one of the most lasting victories the September 11 terrorists managed to achieve. Here's the background. Canada is the United States' biggest trading partner, by far. More of this trade goes through Michigan and Ontario than anywhere else. Things used to work superbly well along what we used to call "the world's largest unguarded border."
Then came 9-11. Suddenly, the world seemed to change overnight. We turned into a frightened people who were utterly paranoid about the threat of terrorists in our midst. Days after the disaster, a story in the Boston Globe indicated that many of the hijackers had come into the United States from Canada.
That was quickly shown to be totally false. None of the terrorists entered through Canada. Yet the damage was done.
Soon, tourists and truckers faced long lines at the border. Both governments struggled to find ways to speed trade and improve security, with mainly not-very-good results. At one point, the lines of trucks waiting to get on the Ambassador Bridge were so long that the government of Windsor started putting portable toilets on homeowners' lawns. You can guess how popular that was.
Now things are even worse. Thanks to something called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI for short, since June 1, all U.S. citizens have needed a passport to visit Canada.
Well, actually, you can get into Canada without one -- you just can't get back. This has been a blow to the economies of Windsor and Detroit and other border cities, by effectively eliminating spontaneous travel, as in, let's go over for a nice Italian dinner.
Traffic through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel was down 22.5 percent last month, according to today's Windsor Star. The Shaw Festival and Stratford are suffering. But the big concern is trade.
Yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Chamber released a report called "Finding the Balance: Shared Border of the Future," calling on both governments to fix the logjam at the border before it ruins both nations. When times are good, about $1.6 billion in trade crosses the border each day.
Thanks both to the recession and new restrictions, that figure was down 31 percent in January. More of this trade passes through Detroit than anywhere else, but the new rules threaten to choke that off. From the standpoint of customs regulations, it is now easier to import a shipment of cars from Korea than Canada.
This needs to be fixed and fixed now, before the economy starts to revive. What I don't know is why our governor and our congressional delegation isn't making this a huge priority.
Losing more trade is the last thing our economy needs.