West Coast ports could close as negotiations drag

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - A well informed source, a highly respected agricultural trade association delivered a dramatic announcement Tuesday morning.

It announced that a closure of West Coast ports is imminent. The announcement was so dramatic, it could actually force the issue come to a head Tuesday evening.

A huge number of containers entering and leaving West Coast ports contain perishable foods – worth billions of dollars each year.

The Agriculture Transportation Coalition, a well-respected Washington, D.C. based research, marketing, and lobbying association representing those who export agricultural goods is now telling its members that they should expect a West Coast port shutdown.

"It appears that the chances of the ports actually shutting down are probably greater now than any time since the contract expired at the end of June," says Peter Friedmann who heads the Agriculture Transportation Coalition.

The Coalition expects that the Pacific Maritime Association, a consortium of 70 shipping lines and port terminal operators, will lock the longshoremen out. But it also cautions that the longshoremen may act before the employers, which means in a day or two.

The Pacific Maritime Association told KTVU that it is still negotiating with the longshoremen but the parties remain far apart on some crucial issues.

The longshoremen tell KTVU the talks are at an intense and hopeful stage.

"Even before all this disruption, our West Coast ports were not as efficient, as affordable, as productive as most of the ports in the developed world," says Friedmann.

Paramount Exporting, an Oakland-based perishables exporter has a lot at risk right now. "It makes it very difficult to plan ahead. It's very difficult when we're trying to communicate with our customers." says Senior VP Lee Doud. "Probably somewhere around 100 containers maybe a few more that could get tied up in the port if there was any disruption," said Doud.

Neither the longshoremen nor the Pacific Maritime Association, a consortium of 70 shipping lines and port terminal operators, will say more, on the record than they are still in negotiations - hopeful but far apart on some issues.

But, the Agriculture Transportation Coalition warns there is no perishable raised or made in the U.S. that cannot be purchased elsewhere in the World.

For example, since West Coast ports have proven unreliable, Egypt has pick up a good amount of the California export citrus business.

"We've lost kind of a lot of orders and then the customer is thinking, ‘What's going on with the US?'" says Lucia Chu, Paramount Exporting's Ocean Traffic Manager.