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U.S.-Canada supply chain still may face disruptions due to vaccine mandates

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COVID-19 vaccine requirements for foreign truckers at the U.S.-Canada border still could cause supply-chain disruptions if both countries do not decide to allow exemptions, the head of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) said on Thursday.

Late on Wednesday, Canada dropped a vaccine mandate for Canadian truckers returning home from the United States that was supposed to kick in on Saturday, but unvaccinated non-Canadians will still be turned back at the border.

The United States has signaled, without providing details, that foreign truck drivers will have to show proof of inoculation to enter the United States starting on Jan. 22.

So if both countries keep their respective bans on unvaccinated foreign drivers, thousands will be taken off the roads, creating the first policy measure since the pandemic began that could limit cross-border trucking traffic.

“Canada has exempted its own drivers from its border vaccine mandate, but this change will have a very limited impact,” said Bob Costello, a senior vice president and the chief economist at the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

“Canada’s rules will prevent U.S. drivers from entering Canada, and our proposed rules will prevent unvaccinated Canadians from entering the U.S.,” Costello said in a statement.

Costello said he fully expects both countries to enforce the mandates, but he urged “leaders in Ottawa and Washington to reconsider these mandates so we can avoid any further economic disruptions”.

“We’re asking both countries to work together to remove their foreign national (vaccine) mandate and look for a better date to put this in place,” Stephen Laskowski, president and chief executive of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), told Reuters.

The trucking industry carries more than two-thirds of the C$650 billion ($521 billion) in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States.

The CTA estimates that 10% to 20%, or between 12,000-22,000 of Canadian truck drivers, and 40%, or some 16,000, of U.S. truck drivers traveling into Canada would be sidelined by mandates.

Supply chain disruptions drove Canada’s headline inflation to an 18-year high in November, and the Bank of Canada has signaled that it could raise interest rates to counter rising prices as soon as April.

In the United States, inflation rose at its fastest pace year-to-year in nearly four decades in December.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s pandemic-related vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, including for trucking companies with more than 100 employees. But that is a separate measure from the border requirement due to take effect later this month.

Both the ATA and the CTA argue that the nature of trucking means that drivers stay mostly isolated from the general public, and that has meant low coronavirus infection rates among drivers.

Canada’s border agency and the ministry of public safety, which oversees the border, did not comment when asked about potential exemptions for foreign drivers.

The White House declined to immediately comment.

($1 = 1.2482 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Britain’s MI5 spy service warns lawmakers over Chinese agent of influence

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Britain’s domestic spy service MI5 has warned lawmakers that the Chinese Communist Party has been employing a woman to exert improper influence over members of parliament.

MI5 sent out an alert and picture of the woman named Christine Lee on Thursday alleging she was “involved in political interference activities” in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who circulated MI5’s alert to lawmakers, said MI5 had found that Lee “has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China“.

Hoyle said Lee had been involved with the now disbanded all-party parliamentary group, Chinese in Britain.

Britain’s interior minister Priti Patel told reporters that Lee’s behaviour was currently below the criminal threshold to prosecute her, but she said that by putting the alert out the government was able to warn lawmakers about Lee’s attempts to improperly influence them.

Patel said it was “deeply concerning” that an individual working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party had targeted lawmakers.

Lee is the founder of a law firm, which has offices in London and Birmingham, according to a government official. A woman who answered the phone at the Birmingham office said: “We are not taking any calls now”. A request for comment left at the London office went unanswered.

The law firm lists on its website one of its roles as legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in Britain.

The Chinese embassy in London said in a statement that China does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

“We have no need and never seek to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament,” it said. “We firmly oppose the trick of smearing and intimidation against the Chinese community in the UK.”

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Barry Gardiner, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, said he had received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Lee and said he has been liaising with intelligence services “for a number of years” about her.

“They have always known, and been made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner employed Lee’s son as a diary manager but he resigned on Thursday.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Britain’s governing Conservative Party who has been sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang, called for an urgent update from the government on the issue.

He questioned why the woman had not been deported and called for a tightening of the accreditation process for people gaining access to parliament, which he said was too lenient.

Lee is listed under the Christine Lee & Co law firm as a British national in financial filings with Companies House, Britain’s corporate registry.

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood told parliament of her alleged activity: “This is the sort of grey-zone interference we now anticipate and expect from China.”

Britain’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Last year MI5 urged British citizens to treat the threat of spying from Russia, China and Iran with as much vigilance as terrorism.

British spies say China and Russia have each sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property as well as to interfere in domestic politics and sow misinformation.

The Chinese ambassador to Britain was banned from attending an event in the British parliament last year because Beijing imposed sanctions on lawmakers who highlighted alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang.

China placed the sanctions on nine British politicians in March last year for spreading what it said were “lies and disinformation” over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s far west.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christopher Cushing)

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Microsoft board to review sexual harassment, discrimination policies

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Microsoft Corp will review the effectiveness of its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies and practices in response to a shareholder proposal that passed at its latest annual meeting, the company’s board said on Thursday.

The review will produce a transparency report with results of any sexual harassment investigations in recent years against the company’s directors and senior executives, including allegations that a board committee probe beginning in 2019 involved Bill Gates, the board said.

Data on the number of cases investigated and their resolution is also expected to be part of the review along with steps that have been taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

Microsoft said last year it conducted a probe into co-founder Bill Gates’ involvement with an employee almost 20 years ago after the company was told in 2019 that he had tried to start a romantic relationship with the person.

Gates stepped down from the Microsoft board in 2020. In previous public comments, a spokesperson for Gates has denied that his departure was linked to the probe.

A request for comment sent to Bill Gates at his Gates Foundation email address was not immediately returned.

Microsoft‘s board said it has hired outside law firm Arent Fox to assist in the review, at the end of which Arent would make public a version of the report detailing its findings and recommendations.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco and Mehr Bedi in Bangalore; Editing by Richard Chang and Shailesh Kuber)

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Canada opens probe into Tesla’s heating system following consumer complaints

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Canada’s auto safety regulator said on Thursday it has opened an investigation into the heating system of Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles following 16 consumer complaints about its performance during cold weather.

Transport Canada said it is concerned that a malfunctioning heating and air-conditioning system “may affect windshield defogging/defrosting and therefore driver visibility.”

“A company is required to notify Transport Canada and all current owners when they become aware of a defect that could affect the safety of a person. … These notices are commonly referred to as ‘safety recalls,’” it said.

The regulator said it has informed Tesla of the investigation.

Tesla did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. In 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “Model Y heat pump is some of the best engineering I’ve seen in a while.”

A number of Tesla owners complained that the heat pumps are failing in extreme cold temperatures, according to Drive Tesla Canada, a Tesla news provider. The report said the heating problems happened even after Tesla early last year replaced faulty sensors in heat pumps in some 2020-2021 Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to address the issue.

The U.S. safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, did not have an immediate comment on the issue.

 

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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