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Canada freight operators seek clarity on ‘essential’ services

A patchwork of definitions of what Canadian import receiving operations are considered providers of «essential service» is causing confusion. Photo credit:

Canadian freight transportation providers are urging provincial governments and Ottawa to clarify what businesses — namely import receiving facilities — are deemed “essential” services amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Two freight groups, the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters (I.E. Canada) and the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA), say a uniform federal definition of essential and non-essential services of products is urgently needed. The groups say a patchwork of definitions among provinces is causing confusion, resulting in freight backlogs due to closed warehouses in Ontario and Quebec.

“Without free movement of goods of all types, the supply chain could quickly become congested, limiting the goods that are imperative to have delivered in this crisis,” Kim Campbell, chair of I.E. Canada, wrote in a Monday letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I.E. Canada’s membership includes Canadian National Railway, the country’s largest freight railroad; Maersk Line, Expeditors International, Kuehne + Nagel, UPS, and FedEx Express and FedEx Freight Networks.

In a Wednesday letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier François Legault, CIFFA said its forwarding members are already reporting on a more-than-hourly basis that they can’t pick up cargo because importer facilities have closed. As a result, “this cargo will face days’ or weeks’ worth of demurrage/detention charges from facilities such as ports/terminals that remain open,” CIFFA officials wrote.

Unlike the murkiness surrounding whether warehouses, cross docks, and distribution centers are considered essential services, the designation of Canadian ports, railroads, and truck companies as providers of essential services is clear.

“Our ports, railways, and trucks are vital to bringing in the things we need, and I want to thank all the workers who are keeping our country moving,” Trudeau said in a Thursday briefing about the coronavirus outbreak.