EL CENTRO – It could take months before California imports and exports are flowing through West Coast ports as they did before the labor slowdown that ended less than a month ago.
Even with the dispute between shippers and Longshore workers resolved, the ports remain backed up.
International trade economist Jock Oâ€™Connell says California businesses hoping for immediate movement of their products might be disappointed.
â€œEven if (the ports) achieve their maximum rates of productivity, itâ€™s going to take them weeks to move out the backlog of cargo thatâ€™s sitting on the port property, as well as the large number of ships that are waiting offshore to be processed,â€ O’Connell said.
â€œWhat could further complicate the backlog is when cargo volumes begin to pick up during the spring, which is traditionally an accelerated time for trade and a peak period for container movements through the ports,â€ O’Connell added.
Agricultural exporters say while they are encouraged by the news of the settlement, they also say they expect it will take several weeks, to months, for the ports to sort out the current stockpile of cargo before goods can begin to move on a more timely basis.
Operations at Border Valley Trading, which exports hay, also remain unchanged, said company President Greg Braun. He noted his company, which has operations in the Imperial and Central valleys, had a backlog of 400 containers waiting to be shipped during the strike.
“I don’t think people realize how big the logjam isâ€”how many containers that are sitting loaded that need to move and/or how many containers that are sitting offshore with ships that need to come in,” Braun said at the time. “That all needs to happen first before industry can move on to what we call new business.”
Because of delays in shipping his products, Braun feared loss of customers, who ended up buying hay from other countries.
A month later after containers started moving again, Braun feels optimistic that things will soon get back to normal.
â€œWeâ€™re back on track,â€ said Braun. â€œEveryday weâ€™re making more progress. Things do seem to be getting better. The problem is to get caught up and get out of the mess that was created by the strike.â€
â€œWe are making strides,â€ continued Braun. â€œBy the end of April, we think weâ€™ll be back to some level of normalcy. Everybodyâ€™s still playing catch up. The ports are still in disarray with the volume of containers. Overall, itâ€™s getting better. The long wait does not affect the quality of the hay products. Itâ€™s not uncommon for hay to sit in containers for a long time. Weâ€™re 30 to 45 days away from what we would consider normal.â€
The California Farm Bureau Federation contributed parts of the story.