Groups ratchet up pressure on West Coast port situation

U.S. meat and poultry industries losing more than $30 million a week on stalled port worker negotiations.

More than 90 farm and food organizations again called on representatives on both sides of the West Coast port labor dispute to come to the bargaining table to resolve the issue.

Slowdowns by dock workers at the ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., and in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., have stranded thousands of containers of farm products over the past several months. Since November, pork prices, for example, have tumbled by 20% in large part because of the port problem, and meat and other perishable products awaiting shipment soon may need to be destroyed or discounted and sold on the domestic market, the National Pork Producers Council said. One estimate has the U.S. meat and poultry industries losing more than $30 million a week.

The American Soybean Assn. said it is "costing the agriculture industry millions of dollars" for every week that the negotiations and slowdowns drag on.

Exports of agricultural products have grown to $144 billion in 2013 from $46 million in 1994, with much of the growth in Asian markets, which are most directly affected by the ports slowdowns.

“Not only is this dispute causing extreme congestion, delays, and uncertainty, it is costing the agriculture industry millions of dollars for every week that the negotiations and slowdowns drag on,” ASA said.

In the open letter, stakeholders urged both the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) to take into account the impact the dispute is having on consumers and to resolve their differences as quickly as possible. Although the ILWU initially agreed to continue sending workers to the ports during the contract negotiations, in November it reneged on that agreement.

The groups also urged the federal government to consider all available remedies to bring the dispute to a rapid end, noting the potentially dire consequences of not reaching an agreement.

“This regrettable situation is having a severe impact on our ability to export agricultural and food products to many of our main export markets,” wrote the groups in the letter. “Inevitably, these overseas customers will look to other sources for their supply of these goods. Similar to what we encountered after ill-advised export embargoes in the past, once lost, a foreign customer can be difficult to recapture.”

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