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U.S. economic recovery driving up prices, hampering global supply chains

TORONTO —
Roaring back from shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are on an unprecedented spending spree that is driving up prices and hampering global supply chains.

“We’ve got this huge economy restarting from a low point that it hit about a year ago, and it’s coming straight up like a rocket,” George Calhoun, a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, explained to CTV National News.

The surge in demand is driving up the costs of all sorts of products from food to furniture. Most recently, Starbucks reported that it has been having trouble sourcing its ingredients.

However, one of the biggest shortages is for raw materials like lumber, much of whichis imported from Canada.

“Have you ever seen such a wild swing with lumber prices?” asks Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. “It’s crazy.”

Lumber prices tripled during the pandemic due to constraints on production and a housing boom that had a locked down nation eager to find a new place to live or renovate their existing residence.

According to CTV News’ Chief Financial Commentator Pattie Lovett-Reid, there is still soaring demand for lumber and long-term supply issues that won’t be resolved overnight.

In addition to the rising costs, consumers are also faced with Trump-era tariffs on Canadian lumber that the Biden administration now wants to double.

In 2018, the Trump administration imposed a 20 per cent tariff on Canadian softwood, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but lowered it to nine per cent late last year after a decision by the World Trade Organization.

U.S. industry analysts say tariffs and lumber costs add an extra US$35,000 to the price of a new home. That figure is so steep, Habitat for Humanity worries its charity could be priced out.

“We’re seeing an increase of about 50 per cent across the board of all supplies,” saidLeah Miller, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento. “We’re having to be very nimble and find creative ways to get busy.”

The U.S. is not alone in slapping new tariffs on foreign materials. In May, the Canada Border Services Agency set steep anti-dumping tariffs on leather-upholstered furniture manufactured in China and Vietnam, as high as 295 per cent and 101 per cent, respectively.

Top officials are downplaying the fears of rising costs and inflation, insisting that prices will stabilize when the pandemic is no longer an economic problem, but lawmakers are coming under intense pressure from home builders and other industries to cut tariffs.

“We have had several months of high inflation that most economists, including me, believe will be transitory as our economy gets back in full swing after the pandemic,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the House of Representatives Committee on Thursday.

The White House has since launched a task force to deal with critical supply chain disruptions, but officials say they are confident that the issue will resolve itself in the coming months.



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