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In the 1930s, the United States raised tariffs on goods coming in from Canada, which retaliated with new tariffs of its own, worsening and lengthening the Great Depression for both countries. Wednesday, in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to partially close the Canada-U.S. border, which likewise will worsen and lengthen the mutual economic damage from the pandemic.

Walls, once up, don’t easily come down. In the long run, the most lasting harm from this pandemic could be the closing of borders, the closing of minds.

There are good public-health reasons for keeping foreigners out when a country is trying to control the spread of a disease. The Trudeau government and Trump administration deserve praise for co-operating to limit the harm by exempting crossings that are essential to trade and commerce.

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But these restrictions will make for a stickier border. They will make it more cumbersome to do business, weakening supply chains. Restrictions restrict, often in ways that no one intended.

The big difference between the banking crisis of 2008 and today’s economic emergency is that the United States under George W. Bush was a reasonably open society, while Donald Trump has been banning foreigners and raising tariffs and building walls since the day he was inaugurated.

The American president is not alone. China this week ordered journalists from several major American news organizations to leave the county. The regime in Beijing grows more hostile and isolated as criticism mounts of how it handled the initial outbreak.

The members of the European Union sealed their borders against each other and the rest of the world for public health reasons. But nativist fear of the Other has been spreading there for years, contributing to Britain’s decision to leave the EU altogether.

The COVID-19 attack accelerates the ongoing weakening of globalization, which some see as a good thing. For them, this pandemic is simply the latest evil of modernity. “COVID-19 is but a modest emergency compared to what’s coming in our crowded, mobile, just-in-time delivered era of hyper-globalization,” the journalist Andrew Nikiforuk wrote in The Tyee.

Even defenders of open borders wonder whether the world order built up over the past seven decades will survive the combined ills of the pandemic and the Trump administration.

“This pandemic is reshaping the geopolitics of globalization, but the United States isn’t adapting,” the American political scientists Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman wrote this week in Foreign Affairs magazine. “Instead, it’s sick and hiding under the covers.”

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But to replace the free flow of goods, people and ideas with beggar-thy-neighbour barriers would be a global tragedy.

The number of people living in extreme poverty declined from 44 per cent of the human population in 1981 to 8.6 per cent in 2018, according the World Bank. That’s globalization.

Last year, for the second year in a row, as many girls as boys sat the primary-school graduation exams in Kenya (and achieved a higher average score). That’s globalization.

Last year as well, Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. That’s globalization.

And globalization is both a reason for and result of a world that has avoided a global war for three quarters of a century.

When this pandemic ends, will the walls come down? Or will governments find it easier and more popular to continue restricting the entry of foreigners? Will they decide to become more self-sufficient, even if economic isolationism leaves everyone poorer and less innovative?

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Will the Canada-U.S. border reopen? Or will this President or his successor decide to repatriate factories and raise tariffs? It took every effort of the Trudeau government to preserve and renew the North American free trade agreement that the Trump administration was threatening to scrap. Will that effort turn out to have been a waste of time?

Canada is a trading nation, a nation of immigrants, a nation open to the world. When this pandemic ends, we should lead the world in tearing down walls – internal as well as external – and championing the greatest possible openness among economies and peoples.

The alternative is a return to the insular, frightened planet of the 1930s. And that we must avoid at any cost.

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