West Coast ports are silent this morning, after the Pacific Maritime Association temporarily stopped work due to the ongoing labor dispute. Work is scheduled to resume on Monday, but in the meantime the shutdown is having an impact on a $500 million California citrus export opportunity.
“Today’s announcement by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) further jeopardizes California citrus exports as the industry reaches what would normally be peak demand for California fruit,” California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen said in a statement released late Friday. “Last October we began warning those in government about impacts to our $2.4b industry that historically exports 25% of its fresh tonnage; that warning manifested into little action.”
Traditionally California navel oranges and lemons begin a major push into China, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, and other smaller countries in late December. The “export season” runs well into April. “But already we have quantified losing 25% of our opportunity year to date. Fruit is rotting on the docks, sales are being canceled by the customer and our industry has slowed its harvesting so as not to place matured fruit into the market place. All this damage is created by two entities that seek to maximize their economic well-being while sacrificing others.”
For the 20012/13 season the industry exported approximately 28m cartons of navel oranges with an estimated value of $385m. Lemons rank second with six million cartons exported at a $109m value. The previous season comparable numbers were 28.7m cartons at $385m and almost identical figures for lemons.
Further compounding the problem is that needed inputs that arrived in December continue to sit on docks unable to be loaded onto trucks and shipped north to industry locations. Nets that protect mandarins from cross pollination and seed infestation issues are not available for example.
“Holding hostage food destined for those that want it thereby diminishing revenues for innocent stakeholders is not a vehicle that should be pursued, but that is exactly what the two parties are doing. Apparently government condones the activity,” concludes Nelsen.