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Coutts, Alta., border blockade estimated loss of $220M economic activity: industry experts


The economic toll of the multi-day border blockade by protesters at the U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta. is estimated to be at least hundreds of millions of dollars and will take weeks to resolve.

The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters organization estimates that approximately $44 million in trade goes both directions across the Coutts border every day.

It also estimates the border sees the flow of $15.9 billion in two-way trade annually.

"I suspect that across the board, there's a lot of pain all over the Alberta economy at the moment," said David MacLean, divisional vice president for Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Since Saturday, protesters in support of a trucker convoy opposed to vaccine mandates and public health restrictions have blocked the flow of border traffic.

On Wednesday, the group opened a single lane of traffic in both directions while they continued their protest in the vicinity as secondary protest formed.

One supply chain expert called the effects of the blockade "self-inflicted violence" against Canada's fragile trade networks, causing "cascading ramifications on other modes of transport.

"With the supply chain system, the problem is they are so interwoven and interconnected into each other. Many of the dominoes that have fallen, we don't even see them," said Rajbir Bhatti, associate professor of supply chain management at Calgary's Mount Royal University.

Certain perishable goods including fresh beef and livestock cannot be transported at another border crossing.

The border with Sweetgrass, Montana, is Alberta's only crossing open 24/7 with capacity to handle freight with additional processing resources.

This includes staff with the United States Department of Agriculture, the Food Safety and Inspection Services and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

"My understanding is it's probably eight to 10-hour detour to get to another (border) that will accept processed beef," Greg Schmidt, chair of the Alberta cattle feeders association and feedlot operator in Barrhead.

Schmidt says his members are beginning to miss delivery dates to export live and processed beef to the United States, and much of the feed is being imported from the U.S. by rail to circumvent ground transportation challenges.

He says feeding cattle costs an estimated six to eight dollars per day, which adds up quickly if shipping schedules are missed -- and quality is also expected to suffer.

Some businesses in the meat-packing sector have not slowed down output, yet say the situation is rapidly changing.

"We are receiving and processing cattle at our normal capacity levels. We continue to monitor the situation closely. We're leveraging our broad supply chain footprint to keep markets moving for producers while meeting the needs of our customers and putting food on the tables for families across Canada," said Daniel Sullivan, a spokesperson for Cargill, which operates a large meat-processing facility near High River.

Industry advocates say the blockage is eliminating revenue and tarnishing relationships with trading partners.

"We've got a (pre-existing global) trucker shortage, we've had to supply chain disruptions unrelated to this caused by protesters (at railways), natural disasters in British Columbia. It's just one thing after another, and that's why this protest just couldn't come at a worse time," said MacLean.

MacLean says consumers can expect to see sparse grocery store shelves and price increases as fallout.

"We will still get the food, but we will may not get the best cut that we liked or the choice that we wanted, at the price that we wanted," said Bhatti. Top Stories

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