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Truckers' strike hinders wine imports

Lovers of South American malbecs will soon have to look for libation closer to home as the strike of truckers in the Port of Metro Vancouver heats up.

Container shipments are beginning to pile up inside the port as unionized truck drivers mark the third day of their strike while non-unionized truckers have been off the job since the end of February.

Some local wine merchants say they will soon run out of stock, especially wines coming from South America and Europe.

“For us it’s not good,” said Robert Simpson, general manager of Liberty Wine Merchants. “This is wine we buy every year for spring and summer and it doesn’t get better sitting in the port. And it really is wine we want to drink now. It’s fresh.”

During the last trucking strike in 2005, truckers stayed off the job for 47 days and merchants poured out a lot of wine that spoiled in shipping containers overheated by the mid-summer’s sun.

With cooler spring temperatures, the wine should keep for a while longer but a prolonged strike would still prevent wine from reaching the consumer, according to Simpson.

While wine drinkers will have to make do without their imported rosés, Guinness drinkers may need to scramble leading up to St. Patrick’s day.

“It’s such a big weekend, it’ll be really tough,” said Charlie Bethell who is general manager of the Blarney Stone. “To get through that weekend, we’ll need a lot of kegs.”

Currently the Gastown Irish pub has 10 kegs of the dark stout on hand – enough for 1,000 pints.

“Typically I would say we would expect around 100-150 kegs of beer and a significant portion of that would be Guinness,” he worried.

The port says truck traffic is at just 15 per cent of normal levels and this affects all kinds of goods being shipped in and out of the province.

Businesses and consumers will eventually see more shortages and prices go up as merchants are forced to pay greater port storage fees.

Speaking at a BC Chamber of Commerce gathering in Vancouver, even Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in on the issue.

"We're obviously concerned about this particular labour dispute because we have got to have, you know, major trade and transportation corridors operating and it is not acceptable to have relatively blocking what is important trade for a range of British Columbian and Canadian businesses," he said.

The union says it will stay off the job as long as necessary.

“We’re prepared to be out here for as long as it’s necessary,” said Gavin McGarrigle, B.C. area director of UNIFOR the union representing truckers. “We think that this is a serious situation and it calls for serious answers right away but if needed we’ll be here.”

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