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‘People die’ if US-Canada medical trade stops, pharma hauler says

Sharp Transportation Systems keeps Americans and Canadians supplied with essential medicines and vaccines as tensions mount over cross-border medical supply chains.

Sharp Transportation Systems specializes in transporting pharmaceutical products between the Canada and the United States. (Image: Sharp Transportation Systems)

Shawn Baird’s trucks move essential medications, vaccines and the raw ingredients to make them between Canada and the U.S. every day. He painted a stark picture of the consequences if the cross-border medical trade breaks down.

“People die. That’s what would happen. It can’t happen,” said Baird, the president of Ontario-based Sharp Transportation Systems, which specializes in hauling pharmaceutical products.

Whether medical products will continue to flow freely during the COVID-19 pandemic came into question last week after the Trump administration pressed 3M to stop exporting its N95 respirator masks to Canada and other countries as U.S. medical personnel and hospitals face shortages.

While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would not take any retaliatory measures if the U.S. cuts exports of N95 masks, he noted that “the U.S. will be hurting itself as much as Canada will be hurting if we see an interruption of essential goods and services flow back and forth across the border.”

Carrier moves four truckloads of insulin to US each day

A Sharp truck in New York. (Image: Jeff Betts/Sharp Transportation Systems)

Sharp Transportation sends 10 trucks to the U.S. on a typical day. Four of those trucks deliver insulin to a distributor in Indiana, while the others haul essential medications ranging from penicillin to human growth hormone in addition to a number of vaccines.

“These are lifesaving medications,” Baird said

Sharp’s trucks haul a different mix back to Canada. The raw materials used to make medications — drug precursors and pharmaceutical-grade water — represent a large portion of the backhaul in addition to medications needed in Canada, such as chemotherapy drugs and birth control.

Baird is not that worried that the tensions over N95 masks mark the beginning of the breakdown of the cross-border medical trade.

“It’s just completely illogical for both sides,” Baird said.

Cross-border pharma trade a $10 billion industry

Pharmaceutical trade between the U.S. and Canada totaled more than US$10 billion in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. Canada also exported $1.9 billion more in pharmaceuticals to the U.S. than it imported.

Baird expects that demand for pharmaceuticals will ramp up as treatments become available for COVID-19. He also has the option to buy 10 new trailers to handle the additional freight.

Meanwhile, Baird has started taking on bonuses for his drivers who go to the U.S., depending on the length of the trip.

“These drivers have really stepped up,” Baird said.


  1. Noble1

    “People die’ if US-Canada medical trade stops”

    I would add people are more likely to “die” if the hospitals are stressed above capacity reducing their capability to cater to the needs of the ill . Wisdom suggests prevent to avoid stressing them . This is why during a “pandemic’ it’s extremely important to implement and follow preventive safety guidelines more than ever .

    Don’t become a “statistic” . Be wise and act preventively . Those who are more at risk are those that depend upon others to ensure their surroundings are “safe” rather than upon themselves . If we each do our part collectively , we’ll get through this quicker with far less casualties . Depending on another who may be ignorant and negligent may lead to your demise .

    Be wise , be vigilant , stay safe, and self isolate !

    In regards to “trade” , in a time of crisis especially in the one such as the current one we’re all going through , is a time to put our differences aside and work together . Togetherness/unity renders us stronger . Empathy and collective coordination for our greater good is the best method to get us “all” through this if we act as a team to achieve a common goal . The me ,myself, and I mentality especially during such times is pure poison . Be a friend and make a friend , just don’t be naïve about it . As a species during times of crisis we tend to be at our best due to unity .

    In my humble opinion ……….

    1. Noble1

      New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a true champion ! She did a good job managing her country ! She could have acted quicker , but she managed the COVID-19 ordeal quite well .

      In my humble opinion ………

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected]