How damaging are border closures?


On Sunday 20th of December, France shut its borders to UK haulers in response to rising cases and the new variant of the coronavirus, identified in England, centring the impact of border closures in our collective consciousness. Borders have been closed across the world at various times throughout the pandemic, but what are the actual implications for international relations and globalisation?

Border closures increasingly isolate countries

The trade and travel which occurs between countries due to increased globalisation have been recognized as key contributors to the spread of the coronavirus and, therefore, borders have been closed to try and limit contagion. Arguably, border closures increasingly isolate countries and prompt them to consolidate a bias towards self-reliance. If the freight ban lasted for a substantial amount of time, this would promote protectionist policies, resulting in a decreased need for positive international relations and interconnectivity. However, it seems that border-closures have not yet hugely impacted the trade of necessity goods and, therefore, the impact on international relations has been largely minimised. However, the political implications of border-closures extend past fears over trade.

It is interesting to note that a border is a politically useful fictive idea. By shutting off borders, governments adopt externally focussed responses to the pandemic, deflecting blame and minimising the political costs of the pandemic. However, this can have significantly negative impacts on international relations. In July, Donald Trump publicly stated that the border wall between the United States and Mexico had made a ‘tremendous difference’ in curbing the number of new cases in America. Through this, Trump implicitly framed Mexico as a haven of the virus, infectious and dangerous – fuelling xenophobia and further damaging relations between the countries. When Emmanuel Macron announced the closure of France’s border with the United Kingdom, many saw this as an attack and a means by France of exploiting the virus as an excuse to force trade concessions as we approached the Brexit deal deadline.

In August, the WTO highlighted the heavy impact on globalised tertiary sector industries, stating that international education enrolment had dropped by 50-75% as a result of border-closures and the pandemic. However, the investment in remote-learning will hopefully sustain the trade in education services despite border-closures, keeping the artery open for a bounce back following the re-opening of borders as the virus comes under control. It seems that by closing borders, governments are only pushing further economic activity, which would previously have involved international travel, online through video communication apps such as Zoom. This progressively virtual interconnectivity between countries increasingly renders border closures as irrelevant and means that the impacts of the immobility of people have been greatly lessened, suggesting a minimal and extremely short-term negative impact on globalisation as a whole.

Virtual interconnectivity between countries increasingly renders border closures as irrelevant

It seems that due to the pressures of minimising the economic impact of border closures, nations will be forced to cooperate and maintain amicable international relations. Macron has since agreed to the easing of travel restrictions between France and the UK and Boris Johnson has hailed a free trade deal with the EU, illustrating the durability of international relations despite the hiccup of a border closure. Such cooperation has an important role in minimising the economic impact of mobility restrictions which will be absorbed globally and has been crucially aided by the increase in and ease of online activity. It seems that this key aspect of the pandemic has proven that despite border closures and the immobility of goods and people, globalisation is in fact far from dead.

Image by David McKelvey via Creative Commons

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