The ‘Freedom Convoy' Trucker Protests Have Worsened Supply Chain Issues — Here's What You Need to Know

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Escalating vaccine mandate protests near the Canada-U.S. border — known as the "Freedom Convoy" — have sent Canada into a state of emergency. They're also affecting the price of a variety of goods for Americans.

What started in January as a protest against new vaccine requirements for truckers crossing the border into Canada from the U.S. has turned into a demonstration against Canadian vaccine mandate policies in general, with protestors occupying streets near Parliament in the nation's capital, Ottawa — as well as other major cities across the country.

These protests — the blockades in particular — have a tangible effect, even for Americans who don't live near the border. In addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in lost trade for each day that border crossings are closed, the supply chain disruptions could make multiple goods in the U.S. more expensive over the coming months.

Here's what you need to know:

What's going on?

In November, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau's government announced that, to avoid a 14-day quarantine, all truck drivers — both Americans and Canadians — would need to be double vaccinated against Covid-19 by Jan. 15 when crossing into Canada.

To protest the mandate, a few hundred truckers driving heavy-duty trucks and pickup trucks descended upon Ottawa, essentially shutting down the downtown core. The protest grew into a noisy, horn-honking encampment totaling 4,000 trucks, which aggravated local residents and forced businesses to temporarily close. 

Blockades were also formed on the Ambassador Bridge on the Canadian border with Detroit — a crucial trade corridor between Canada and the U.S. — as well as other border crossings near Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.

A day after the Ambassador Bridge reopened on Sunday, Trudeau invoked temporary emergency powers allowing his federal government to ban public assembly in certain locations, and freeze the bank accounts of protestors that threaten national security. The move followed encouragement last week from the Biden administration for Canada to use its federal powers to ease the disruption.

The Ontario provincial government also declared emergency measures last week, including six-figure fines and jail time for blocking traffic. 

The larger protest movement seems to be abating, however, and all border crossings are expected to be clear as of Thursday. Protestors remain in Ottawa, with an estimated 360 vehicles still blockading the city's downtown district.

Why does it matter?

The blockades have already inflicted significant economic damage on both the U.S. and Canada, weakening supply chains already hurt by the pandemic. Traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, for example, accounts for a quarter of all cross-border trade between the U.S. and Canada — with $360 million in trade per day, according to Reuters.

A large part of that trade is tied to the auto sector, as Canada manufacturers produce parts essential for the production of vehicles. Ford, General Motors and Toyota all announced having to shut down or delay vehicle production last week, due to the blockades. Such delays could exacerbate inflation on the price of new cars, which have risen by 12.2% in the last year alone.  

The prices for other large U.S. imports from Canada like snack foods, red meats, vegetable oils, processed fruit and fresh vegetables could be impacted, as well.

The protests have also raised fears that supply chains could be further disrupted by copycat protests in major U.S. cities. Similar scenarios have already happened in countries like France, Belgium, New Zealand and Israel.

Vaccine mandate protests in the States certainly exist — recently, in New York and Los Angeles. But it's uncertain whether any larger, more widespread protests will occur. Vaccine mandates tend to be more strict in Canada than the U.S. — especially in Toronto, Canada's largest city, where indoor dining has lost 408 days to Covid-related closures as of January.

New daily Covid cases are also currently plummeting across most U.S. states, causing multiple state governments to relax mandates in recent weeks — making larger protests additionally unlikely. As of Wednesday, the country's seven-day average of daily new cases is just under 130,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That's down from an omicron-era peak of 800,000 per day in January.

In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a plan on Wednesday to revise its nationwide Covid guidelines, which could result in looser mask and social distancing policies — provided that a fresh wave of infections doesn't arise.

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