November 22, 2012
OTTAWA, Ontario—Word that truckers who were carrying Canadian meat were prevented from crossing into the US border has their association calling for government action.
According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) the problems occurred at the Portal, North Dakota/North Portal, Saskatchewan border crossing and the crossing between Emerson, Manitoba and Pembina, North Dakota. The incidents were said to have occurred in August, but only came to light recently.
Apparently, the US department of agriculture, (USDA) temporarily suspended meat inspections at the two border points for over a week, which meant trucks carrying meat products had to alter their routes and travel through Montana and Michigan (thereby increasing travel distances by up to 1,930km), which meant Canadian meat suppliers had to pay the increased shipping costs that the CTA says amounted to “tens of thousands of dollars per day”.
The suspension of inspections is said to be the result of a dispute between the USDA and a private company that had been contracted to provide the meat inspectors.
The CTA says the company that had been given the original contract by the USDA had recently been sold to a different firm. After the sale, the USDA informed the new owner that it needed to get a new licence or apply for an extension to the existing licence. Neither of those actions seemed to have occurred, so the USDA prohibited the company from providing any meat inspection services. With no meat inspectors available, the trucks were turned back from the borders.
“There was a complete communications vacuum,” says CTA president and CEO David Bradley. “From what we can tell USDA didn’t even alert the US meat importers so that contingency plans could be implemented.
“There can be no justification in our view for USDA penalizing one of its contractors by closing down port services and throwing the trade into chaos. Canada and the United States have been working very hard to ensure the border is as secure and efficient as it can be. When something like this happens it really makes you wonder what some people are thinking.”
Bob Dolyniuk, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) initially learned about the border problems from some of his carrier members. He also says there was a lack of communication about the situation.
“The USDA did not engage another party to conduct the inspections during this period or make any other contingencies; it simply closed the inspections down with no apparent thought to the disruptive and costly impact this would have on the trade. They [USDA] didn’t even inform the US Customs and Border Protection Agency of what was going on. MTA had to do that.”
As a result of the border shutdown, the CTA has taken its members complaints to Ottawa. It has asked federal minister of international trade, Ed Fast, to get a guarantee from his American counterpart ensuring that meat inspectors will always be available at Canada-US borders to inspect Canadian meat exports.
The CTA has also approached trade officials in the US with its concerns.