Lack of West Coast port labor contract creates uncertainty for U.S. red meat

by | May 15, 2023 | 5 Ag Stories, News

West Coast Longshoremen and terminal operators started negotiations on a new labor contract on May 10, 2022. The talks have continued for more than a year without resolution, and port workers have been without a contract for 10 months. While the situation is not grabbing headlines like the backlog of ships waiting at sea in 2020, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) President and CEO Dan Halstrom said the situation is definitely impacting U.S. red meat exports.

?We have a lot of uncertainty around the West Coast, which is a vital launching point for a lot of our Asian shipments,? Halstrom said. ?The most important port being Oakland, but Long Beach and LA as well as Seattle and Tacoma are all important ports. Now, in April on Good Friday, there was a shutdown at the Long Beach-LA port. And there’s been other disruptions later in April as well. So, this is a real concern for us.?

Halstrom said the impasse is reducing the export capacity of the West Coast.

?What’s going on here is we’re seeing a reduction in import volumes and we’re seeing some of the discretionary cargo actually being diverted away from the West Coast to the Gulf ports and the East Coast,? Halstrom said. ?And this is not necessarily good news for the U.S. red meat industry. A lot of our cargo, our beef and pork cargo, especially chilled cargo goes off the West Coast and a lot of the express service goes off the West Coast especially into north Asia with the shortest transit time so specially around chilled cargo which is our higher value cargo, keeping viable options and more options for service off the West Coast is crucial.?

Labor hours by West Coast longshoremen through mid-April have dropped by 25% compared to last year, which indicates that the West Coast ports are losing business to the other coasts.

?It’s bigger than just red meat, it’s agriculture in general,? Halstrom said. ?We have a lot of key trading partners in the Asian region for a whole scope of commodities farm to fork. It is important of course for U.S. beef and pork, but agriculture in general.?

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