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Canadians avoiding hotel quarantines for air travellers fuel taxi boom on U.S. border

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By Allison Lampert and Anna Mehler Paperny

Reuters – U.S. taxi and limousine services are seeing a boom in business from customers seeking to enter Canada by land to avoid a restriction on international travel that applies only to air traffic.

While both Canadian land and air travellers are required to take a test within three days of departure, and again on arrival, only those flying to Canada must spend up to three days of the country’s 14-day required quarantine period in a hotel.

That has led to a surge of calls for taxi and limousine services from Canadians who fly through U.S. airports in states like New York and then cross over the land border, representatives of four companies told Reuters.

“They call from six in the morning to 12 at night,” John Arnet, general manager of 716 Limousine in Buffalo, N.Y. said. “We’ve had so many requests for border crossings that we’re turning them down.”

The company now does more business driving Canadians to their homes in Ontario than with U.S. clients.

A taxi trip across the border can cost around $200 or $250 compared with a three-day hotel stay of more than C$1,200 ($961), Canadian travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said.

With the Canada-U.S. land border mostly closed for more than a year due to the pandemic, and overall tourism down, the recent surge in business has come as a relief to some struggling taxi operators.

Nick Boccio, general manager of Buffalo Limousines, said the Canadian clientele has helped the company bring back chauffeurs.

On Friday, Boccio said the company gave nine different rides to Canadian passengers on just one flight from Florida.

Canada has imposed tough restrictions since the start of the pandemic, including a ban on most foreigners from entering the country. Canadians can fly out of the country and return either by land or air.

But concerns are mounting due to a surge in virus variants, with the once temporary hotel quarantine now mandatory for air travelers through late May, and a ban introduced this week on direct flights from India and Pakistan.

WILL THE BOOM LAST?

Firestone said some of his clients who spent the winter in Florida are returning by land to avoid hotels. Some get rides; others who usually get their cars shipped are driving them north.

“Every single limousine company has got on the bandwagon,” Firestone said.

Some Canadians ask to be driven home, while others take rides to the border, cross on foot and get another ride in Canada, drivers said.

Non-commercial land border crossings were 60% higher during one week at the end of March and beginning of April than in the same week in 2020, according to data from the Canada Border Services Agency. Air travel for that same week, meanwhile, increased 18.8%.

The discrepancy between the rules at the land border and by air is a sore point for Canada‘s hard-hit carriers. (Full Story)

Unlike land travelers who can choose where to quarantine, air passengers who test positive at a hotel must self-isolate at a government-mandated facility.

According to Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) data for Feb. 22 through March 25, 1.5% of air passengers to the country tested positive for the virus on arrival compared with 0.3% of land travellers.

The boom for U.S. taxis could soon be muted as premiers from Canada‘s two most populous provinces, Quebec and Ontario, have urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take further action at the land border.

Tighter requirements might help, such as a mandatory hotel stay for those entering Canada at certain land crossings, said Customs and Immigration Union president Jean-Pierre Fortin, but would be logistically challenging given the vast border.

“It would be very hard to enforce without having clear places for them to go.”

 

((Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and David Gregorio))

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Calgary Stampede to proceed with limited events

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The Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival that is also Canada‘s biggest and booziest party, will go ahead this year after being pulled in 2020 due to the pandemic, though it will not look and feel the same, an event organizer told CBC Radio.

“It won’t be your typical Stampede … it’s not the experience that you had in years past,” Kristina Barnes, communications manager with the Calgary Stampede, told a CBC Radio programme on Friday.

She said organizers were still deciding whether to include rodeo or the grandstand show in this year’s version.

Known as “the greatest outdoor show on earth,” the Stampede draws tourists from around the world for its rodeo and chuckwagon races, but much of the action happens away from official venues at parties hosted by oil and gas companies.

“The Safest and Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is what we’re going to call it this year,” Barnes said, adding the organizers are working directly with Alberta Health to ensure Stampede experiences stay “within the guidelines” that may be in effect in July.

The event is scheduled to take place between July 9-18, according to the Calgary Stampede website.

Last month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told reporters the Calgary Stampede can probably go ahead this year as Alberta’s coronavirus vaccination campaign accelerates.

Barnes and the office of the Alberta premier were not available for immediate comment.

The cancellation of the event last year was a crushing disappointment for Canada‘s oil capital.

The news comes as Alberta has been dealing with a punishing third wave of the pandemic, with the province having among the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 cases in the country. Data released on Friday showed the province had 1,433 new cases, compared with the seven-day average of 1,644.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chris Reese)

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U.S. trade chief pressured to lift duties on Canadian lumber

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 As U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai prepares to meet her Canadian and Mexican counterparts on Monday to review progress in the new North American trade agreement, she is under pressure from home builders and lawmakers to cut U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber.

Shortages of softwood lumber amid soaring U.S. housing demand and mill production curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused prices to triple in the past year, adding $36,000 to the average cost of a new single-family home, according to estimates by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Republican lawmakers have taken up the builders’ cause, asking Tai during hearings in Congress last week to eliminate the 9% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Senator John Thune told Tai that high lumber costs were “having a tremendous impact on the ground” in his home state of South Dakota and putting homes out of reach for some working families.

The Trump administration initially imposed 20% duties in 2018 after the collapse of talks on a new quota arrangement, but reduced the level in December 2020.

“The Biden administration must address these unprecedented lumber and steel costs and broader supply-chain woes or risk undermining the economic recovery,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America. “Without tariff relief and other measures, vital construction projects will fall behind schedule or be canceled.”

On Friday, White House economic adviser Cecilia Rouse said the Biden administration was weighing concerns about commodity shortages and inflation as it reviews trade policy.

The tariffs are allowed under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which permits duties to combat price dumping and unfair subsidies.

The U.S. Commerce Department has ruled that lumber from most Canadian provinces is unfairly subsidized because it is largely grown on public lands with cheap harvesting fees set by Ottawa. U.S. timber is mainly harvested from privately-owned land.

Tai said she would bring up the lumber issue with Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng at the first meeting of the USMCA Free Trade Council, a minister-level body that oversees the trade deal.

WILLING PARTNER

But Tai told U.S. senators that despite higher prices, the fundamental dispute remains and there have been no talks on a new lumber quota arrangement.

“In order to have an agreement and in order to have a negotiation, you need to have a partner. And thus far, the Canadians have not expressed interest in engaging,” Tai said.

Youmy Han, a spokeswoman for Canada‘s trade ministry, said the U.S. duties were “unjustified,” and that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“Our government believes a negotiated agreement is possible and in the best interests of both countries,” Han said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

But builders are growing frustrated with a lack of high-level engagement with high-level Biden administration officials on the issue as they watch lumber prices rise.

“They are clearly still gathering facts, which is even more frustrating given that this issue has been going on since before the election, before the inaugural,” said James Tobin, a vice president and top lobbyist at the NAHB.

 

(Reporting by David Lawder and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Centerra to fight Kyrgyzstan takeover of its gold mine

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Centerra Gold said on Sunday it has initiated binding arbitration against Kyrgyzstan government, after the parliament passed a law allowing the state to temporarily take over the country’s biggest industrial enterprise, the Kumtor gold mine operated by Centerra.

Recently, a Kyrgyzstan court also imposed $3.1 billion fine on Kumtor Gold Company (KGC), which operates the gold mine, after ruling that the firm had violated environmental laws.

The gold miner said that it intends to hold the government accountable in the arbitration for “any and all losses and damage” due to its recent actions against KGC and the Kumtor mine if no resolution is reached.

“The Government’s actions have left Centerra no choice but to exercise our legal rights, through the pursuit of arbitration and otherwise, to protect the interests of KGC, Centerra and our shareholders,” Centerra’s Chief Executive Officer Scott Perry said in a press release.

Kyrgyzstan has a long history of disputes with Centerra Gold over how to share profits from the former Soviet republic’s biggest industrial enterprise.

 

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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