The Frontier Duty Free Association (FDFA) is calling on the Federal government to forgive repayment requirements for loans issued to small, independently-owned land border duty free businesses during the pandemic.
The financial help, known as the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), offered interest-free loans of up to C$60,000 (approximately $44,837) to small businesses.
The measures were deemed necessary due to the US-Canada border being closed for 20 months during the Covid outbreak, resulting in small export businesses unable to trade.
Now, the FDFA is calling for the repayments to be dropped for the hardest hit businesses, as its analysis shows business is still down 33% compared to pre-pandemic levels at the land border duty free stores, which depend solely on the flow of traffic across the Canada-US frontier.
As it stands, for eligible CEBA borrowers in what the Canadian government refers to as “good standing,” repaying the balance of the loan on or before 31 December 2023 would result in loan forgiveness of up to 33% (up to C$20,000).
Possible Canadian general election in next 12 months
What may add spice to the FDFA’s argument is the recent widespread reshuffle by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, of his Cabinet and with a general election possibly being called in the next year due to the current administration’s minority composition.
“It is unreasonable for the government that put our stores in the position of requiring debt to expect repayment when the stores have yet to recover from the long-lasting impacts of the government’s handling of the border,” said FDFA Executive Director Barbara Barrett.
“We did our part to keep Canadians safe at the land border and it seems a moral imperative for the Federal government to acknowledge that and forgive our stores the CEBA loan.”
The border was only fully reopened as of 11 May this year, when the US dropped its requirement for proof of vaccination to enter.
In addition, continued restrictions caused a change in vehicle traffic across the border – an issue the FDFA is calling on new Minister of Tourism, Soraya Martinez Ferrada, to address.
“Our stores had no way to pivot business during the border closure,” added Barrett. “And we continue to bear the brunt of these long-lasting impacts. We are asking for fairness from the government.”
The FDFA notes border communities and their businesses have been “disproportionately affected” by the border closure and subsequent restrictions.
The organisation insists while life returned to normal everywhere else, government regulations “prevented border communities from resuming their way of life and economic base.”
The FDFA is the national association representing Canada’s 32 land border duty free shops and previously called on the American and Canadian governments to commit to never restricting the border again.