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COVID-19 Updates From Around the Network: North America and the Caribbean

Martin Salloum, WTCA Regional Director, North America

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Editor’s Note: As Mexico is included in the Latin American WTCA Region, the WTCA North American Region only includes Canada, the United States, and non-Spanish speaking Caribbean countries (i.e., Haiti).

On the surface, the reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada and the United States appear to be very similar. However, as we look further, there are substantive differences in how the populace and their governments have treated the crisis.

As background, Canada is a confederation of provinces that have authority over areas such as healthcare, education, and resource development. With that, the governance of the pandemic has been primarily led by the federal government. Prime Minister Trudeau speaks to Canadians every morning from his residence in Ottawa, and all provinces have been cooperating by instituting the same public health guidelines as the federal government. Similar to other parts of the world, the pandemic has had variable effects on different provinces — Quebec has been the hardest hit, with over half the nation’s infections, according to the government of Quebec’s website (1). Canada is beginning to see positive results from its early response by closing schools and non-essential businesses, as well as establishing and enforcing social distancing. Additionally, provinces such as British Columbia are now seeing a flattening of the infection curve.

Meanwhile, in the United States, there are noticeable differences on how individual states are dealing with the outbreak. There are disputes as to whether the president or state governors have ultimate authority. There are also growing differences as to whether or not the suffering economy will take precedent over the health of citizens. According to Statisa.com (2), as of April 20, nearly one-third of the two million global infections are in the United States, where the infection rate continues to climb — especially in New York City, which has almost half the infections of the entire country to date.

On March 20, the Canada-US border was closed to all but essential travel, which includes the transportation of goods and travel to avoid disrupting trade and the supply chains, and on April 18, both governments announced a 30-day extension of the closure. Earlier in March, all North American World Trade Centers (WTCs) directed their staff to work remotely. Amidst this uncertainty, there is growing concern amongst Members regarding the potential economic devastation that will impact member companies as well as their own WTCs. One of the key concerns post-crisis is the potential for a push-back on globalization. It is generally agreed upon that we need to get ahead of this by preparing positive messaging regarding international trade.

In light of the pandemic, several North American WTCs have developed initiatives while connecting and serving their tenants, members, and regions through leadership.

For example, WTC Buffalo is currently spearheading a bi-national task force to evaluate the impact of the shutdown and to make trade recommendations on steps to re-open the Canada-US border in an efficient way. The primary concern is that governments may act too quickly, leaving the possibility of having to close the border again, or wait too long and causing unnecessary economic damage.

WTC Delaware held their first COVID-19 discussion on February 12 as part of a day-long session on the US-China Trade Agreement. A week later, the team produced a session on Disaster Planning, which was made available free of charge to the general public, in addition to other COVID-19-related webinars. WTC Delaware has found the WTCA Resource Page and the Reciprocity Desk to be fundamental tools to distribute information regarding available medical supplies both in the United States and abroad.

WTC Denver is producing its World Trade Month Series, which runs every Friday in May. The series features speakers such as authors, consulates, WTC professionals, and international bankers. It will provide all North American WTCs, as well as all others in the network, with a discount code and promotional materials to make the content available to their staff teams and members.

WTC Washington, D.C. has launched the Diplomatic Messages of Hope campaign. Designed as a platform to share messages of inspiration, diplomats offer uplifting stories in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. These shared experiences from embassies, countries, and diasporas illustrate how our global community benefits from a collaborative support system. To date, there are 12 participating embassies and diplomats.

WTC Winnipeg has been contacting their Trade Accelerator Program (TAP) graduates, in addition to other firms, to provide research during this complex time. They are finding that businesses are increasingly interested in diversifying their supply chains from a single source to markets they previously may have not considered, such as Europe and South America. Located in a province with a moderate infection rate, WTC Winnipeg is focusing on “how do we prepare for a post COVID-19 economy.”

(1) Government of Canada, “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Outbreak Update,” Accessed April 24, 2020. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html.
(2) Statisa.com, “Number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cases Worldwide as of April 20, 2020, By Country,” Accessed April 20, 2020. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1043366/novel-coronavirus-2019ncov-cases-worldwide-by-country/.