Late last week the U.S. Maritime Alliance and the International Longshoremen's Association struck a 30-day deal to avert a potential port worker strike on much of the east and gulf coast.
The threat was especially concerning to meat interests as a strike could have affected more than 240,000 metric tons of meat.
According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, the strike created a cloud of uncertainty for exporters of U.S. beef and pork, and the announcement of a 30-day extension of the existing labor contract came as very good news for the U.S. meat industry and many other U.S. agricultural interests.
Paul Clayton, USMEF senior vice president for export services, says that while this extension is not a long-term solution to the labor impasse, exporters are relieved to know that port activity will continue without disruption until at least Jan. 28.
"This is very good news for us. The ports that would have been shut down in the event of a strike are large ports for us for exports of both beef and pork, so news that this has been put off for another 30 days is good news and hopefully in that time period they can get a lot of the issues pulled together and make for a more meaningful contract for everybody," Clayton said in a USMEF interview.
For U.S. beef exports, the greatest potential impact rests with the Port of Houston, which handled nearly 150,000 metric tons of outbound beef in the first three quarters of this year – or about 25 percent of all beef shipped out of the United States through an ocean port. Other East Coast and Gulf Coast ports handle smaller volumes of beef, but the cumulative impact would still be very significant.
For pork, the largest impacted outlet would be the Port of Norfolk, Va., which handled more than 90,000 metric tons from January through September.
Other major outbound ports that would be affected by a strike include New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Charleston, S.C., Jacksonville, Fla., Wilmington, N.C., Gulfport, Miss., and Savannah, Ga.
"Our exporters will continue to be able to continue exporting for at least the next 30 days or make plans for alternatives in the event that there are further problems," Clayton noted.