The head of a trucking industry association says thousands of Canadian truckers won’t be vaccinated against COVID-19 by a deadline imposed by governments on both sides of the border, throwing a supply chain already stretched thin by the global pandemic into even more chaos. “This is making a bad situation a lot worse. It’s the perfect storm,” said Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

A mid-January deadline for the vaccine mandate was announced by the U.S. in mid-October. Canada has announced a Jan. 15 deadline for truckers crossing into this country.

Based on reports from trucking companies, Laskowski estimates that up to 20% of the 120,000 Canadian truckers who regularly cross into the U.S. might not be vaccinated by the time the deadline rolls around. “Even if every single company gets their vaccination rates up to 90%, that’s still 12,000 drivers,” said Laskowski, who’s calling on both governments to delay the deadline.

Those estimates are frightening to people in industries as varied as fruit and vegetable imports to auto parts manufacturing, who say it could wreak havoc on an already-reeling supply chain. Steve Bamford, a board member of the Toronto Wholesale Produce Association, predicted the driver shortfall will push the already-rising price of fruits and vegetables even higher. “The supply chain is already broken. You can’t take 20% of the workforce out of the mix and expect it not to have a major impact,” said Bamford, a fourth-generation produce supplier.

Bamford estimates the cost of sending a truckload of fruits and vegetables from California to Toronto could double from its current range of $6,000-$7,000. “If there are 20% fewer drivers on the job, everybody’s going to be scrambling to pay the remaining ones more,” said Bamford, adding that the increased shipping costs will be passed onto wholesale customers, and eventually to prices at your local fruit and vegetable stand. “You have to pass those costs along, or you’d go out of business pretty quickly,” said Bamford.

For Canada’s auto parts industry, trucking is vital, said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association. “Trucking is the lifeblood of our industry. Cars get shipped via rail, parts get shipped by truck,” said Volpe, who estimated that almost half of the Canadian industry’s $35 billion output crosses the border. “This is hitting the industry at a time when supply chains are having the most difficulty they’ve had in a hundred years,” said Volpe.

Even though some ports around the world are slowly starting to unclog from the mess they’ve been in during COVID, the global supply chain is far from back to normal, said Fraser Johnson, a professor at Western University’s Ivey School of Business. “Trucking and rail are becoming huge bottlenecks. And increasing the driver shortfall won’t help,” said Johnson, who specializes in supply chain issues.

Johnson says the scale of cross-border trade is so large that even a slight reduction in truck traffic could have major economic consequences. “The Detroit-Windsor bridge has a billion dollars in goods crossing every single day,” said Johnson.

The CTA’s Laskowski agreed. “This isn’t just a trucking industry issue. This is a North American economy issue. Every single sector will be affected, from manufacturing, to electronics, to food and auto parts.”

Source: The Star