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New vaccine mandates for cross-border essential workers could impact trade

Trucking firms expect to lose some drivers as Canada and the U.S. enact COVID vaccine mandates. Truck drivers had been exempted with essential worker status.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — New COVID vaccine mandates are coming soon for some previously excused workers, and that could have an impact for our significant cross border trade with Canada.

First, we'll offer up some big border numbers, as in billions of dollars. Information from U.S. Rep. Brian Higgin's office shows the United States and Canada daily exchange $1.6 billion in goods and services. Overall in 2020, that added up to over $614 billion.

For New York State, according to the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, it's worth $30 billion and over 680,000 jobs in the state connected to that trade.

That includes of course truck drivers crossing the bridges. This Saturday, those drivers must be vaccinated to enter Canada, and the following Saturday, on Jan. 22, drivers must be vaccinated to enter the United States. 

Up until now they were exempted with essential worker status.

Executives of trucking firms acknowledge that truck drivers tend to be independent-minded. They are already aware that there could be significant problems with those vaccine mandates, due to so-called vaccine hesitancy or outright opposition to the vaccine.

Jason Ickert, who is President of West Seneca-based Sonwil Logistics and Transportation, says: "We believe that the impact will be as much as 30 percent of the drivers that are currently crossing between the United States to Canada could be taken out of the market. Twenty percent of that is Canadian carriers; 10 percent of that would be, you know, the U.S."

Ickert says his Sonwil firm, which covers the continental United States and Canada, did recently hire some new drivers to help make up a nationwide shortage of truckers we've reported on previously. 

But then again, he adds: "There are some truck drivers who have said, 'Hey, you know what? I'm going to take the retirement, it's my time, rather than deal with that.' "

Ickert says they have sought out vaccinated drivers who are voluntarily willing to cross.     

So overall, perhaps there could be some impact on local factories. For example, General Motors and Ford ship car parts made here to Canadian assembly plants. Many other Western New York businesses also have Canadian trade connections.

But Ickert says the Canadians may feel it more-so with supply chain hits on food products and other U.S. produced items.

Truck drivers seeking to cross the Peace Bridge or Lewiston-Queenston Bridge with their truck-borne cargo will have to upload their vaccination status to the ArriveCan app.      

Ickert says it appears the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is still working out details for checking the status of truck drivers entering the United States. Its official statement reads:

"Starting in January 2022, all inbound non-U.S. persons crossing U.S. land POEs or ferry terminals – whether for essential or non-essential reasons – must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination."    

Ickert expects there could be some delays on the bridges as Inspectors check for vaccination proof. And, of course, time is money.

"It might be sitting at a border crossing. That excess 'dwell time' causes them not to be as productive and so there's an additional cost to that," Ickert said.

Those extra costs may eventually filter down to consumers.