A spokesman for agricultural interests called upon ports to help increase U.S. exports by reducing delays at marine terminals.
Containers can be delayed at marine terminals for a number of reasons, but the end-result is invariably a loss of business opportunities, Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, told the Pulse of the Port seminar in Long Beach Wednesday.
When West Coast ports were shut down for 10 days in 2002 because of an employer lockout of longshoremen, confectioners in Japan and elsewhere turned to Turkey to replace the almonds that should have come from California. Growers in California still have not recovered the entire market share they lost in 2002, Friedmann said.
Delays at marine terminals can be very costly for shippers of perishable products. A container load of fresh pork sells for $175,000 in Asia, but if the shipment is delayed at a marine terminal for several days and the shipper has to freeze the pork in order to preserve it, the shipment will be worth only $50,000 in Asia, he said.
Export shipments can be delayed at ports because of congestion, low productivity or holds placed on containers by government regulatory agencies. Since most every agricultural or forest product exports from the U.S. can be sourced from other countries, repeated delays at ports could mean a loss of export opportunities, Friedmann said.
With U.S. exports growing at two to three times the rate of imports, and projected to continue increasing because of the weak dollar and the competitive advantages the U.S. enjoys in some industries, ports that work closely with exporters to satisfy their transportation needs will reap a bonanza of cargo.
Friedmann suggested Southern California ports urge the state to establish a heavyweight corridor that would allow trucks with a third axle to move agricultural products from the Central Valley to Los Angeles-Long Beach. Agricultural shipments tend to be heavy and often exceed the road limits, but they could be trucked safely and legally in a designated overweight corridor, he said.
Regulatory holds placed on exports are costly enough, and Friedmann praised Long Beach for changing its tariff to waive demurrage fees on shipments that are delayed because of a hold by regulatory agencies. He encouraged other ports to adopt a similar policy.
He also chided the Southern California ports for their traffic mitigation fee, which encourages greater use of night gates by charging a fee of $120 per 40-foot container on truck moves during the day shift. Friedmann said the concept of reducing port congestion is good, but agricultural exporters oftentimes do not have the flexibility to ship at night. He said some exporters purposefully avoid Los Angeles-Long Beach because of the fee.
Although ports have no control over federal government policies, Friedmann encouraged Long Beach executives to join with agricultural interests in their effort to get Customs and Border Protection to reopen a program that allows shippers to file export documents after the shipments have left port.