Supply chain crisis and Biden’s speech

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Business leaders called for the Biden administration on Wednesday to consider new approaches to ease severe pressure on supply chains, including deploying the National Guard to address bottlenecks, Consumer Brands Association CEO Geoff Freeman told CNN.

Freeman, whose trade group represents Coca-Cola, Kellogg and Campbell Soup, participated in a virtual roundtable led by Vice President Kamala Harris and said discussions with the administration remain in their early stages. 

“We have to leave no stone unturned,” said Freeman, who described supply chains as being in a state of “crisis.”

Business leaders made several proposals aimed at alleviating pressure, including a “targeted use of the National Guard,” Freeman said. He added that the National Guard could be used to address bottlenecks wherever they form, including removing cargo from ships or getting cargo out of shipyards.

“Everyone I talk to within the consumer packaged goods industry believes the strain is only going to become greater in the months ahead,” Freeman said. 

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the National Guard proposal. 

Supply chain stress is delaying shipment of goods, leaving shelves empty and jacking up prices. Consumer prices rose in August by 5.4% from a year ago, matching the fastest pace since 2008. 

Freeman said other ideas mentioned during the meeting include temporary visa and using previously-authorized funding to ease a shortage of workers – including truck drivers. 

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The White House announced Wednesday it will work with companies and ports on a “90-day sprint” to alleviate bottlenecks. Significantly, the Port of Los Angeles will move to 24/7 service, bringing it into alignment with the operations of the Port of Long Beach. These two ports handle 40% of container traffic in the United States – and both have been hit by severe congestion.

“We are pleased today to see the urgency from the administration to focus on the challenges within the supply chain,” Freeman told CNN. “All credit goes to them for recognizing the need for having this constant public and private cooperation.”

Freeman said moving to 24/7 at ports will help and is appreciated, but added that this is the “low-hanging fruit” and was a “relatively obvious next step” given that many ports overseas are already doing this.

“Getting the goods off the ship is one part of the process. We then need a truck to put them on. We need the drivers,” Freeman said. 

Business leaders also proposed hosting a weekly war room with government officials to address supply chain problems before they turn into full-blown crises.

“Their response was, ‘Once a week isn’t enough. We want to do it three times a week,’” said Freeman. “I give them a great deal of credit for having that urgency.”

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