The Port of Seattle was closed resulting from labor disputes on the ILWU

Shipping containers in the Port of Seattle.

Patti Domm | CNBC

On the West Coast, industrial action continues after it was announced that the Port of Seattle will be closed because the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) refuses to send workers to work at the container terminals. This comes from a statement from the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents the terminals in the ports.

West Coast ports experienced continued work stoppages and disruptions throughout the week, with an estimated $5.2 billion in trade flows being handled from the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland.

In an email statement, the ILWU said the union remains committed to negotiating a contract that is “fair and equitable and reflects the hard work and contributions of its members to the continued success of the multi-billion dollar shipping industry.”

The ILWU also accused the PMA of using the media to use biased information in an attempt to influence the process.

“Despite what you’re hearing from PMA, the West Coast ports are open as we continue to operate under our expired contract,” said International President Willie Adams.

The Port of Seattle and its twin port, the Port of Tacoma, form what is known as the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA). The Port of Seattle is one of the most important seaports in North America that US agricultural exporters rely on to ship their produce and grain. About 40% of jobs in Washington state are related to commerce.

The most important trading partners in 2022 were China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and India.

The Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC), which represents agricultural shippers, tells CNBC that these disruptions are tarnishing the reputation of US agricultural exporters as reliable trading partners.

“When the ILWU-PMA negotiations collapsed at the end of a previous contract, the Japanese Department of Agriculture wrote to our US Department of Agriculture saying, ‘Your ports aren’t working, but our cows are still eating.’ “The effects of these disruptions on the West Coast are being felt worldwide,” emphasized Peter Friedmann, Managing Director of AgTC.

The top six U.S. exports, according to the port’s website, include apples (worth $2.185 billion), milk (worth $1.209 billion), cattle (worth $801.5 million) , wheat (worth $756.8 million) and potatoes (worth $712.4 million). and Hay (worth $601.7 million). The total value of exports in 2022 was US$5.66 billion.

The NWSA is the country’s second largest gateway for reefer containers. Frozen products such as French fries, meat, dairy products, apples and fish are transported in these special containers.

“Our agriculture cannot stand idly by and not be stored in terminals,” said Friedmann. “We must not constantly miss departures and delivery commitments to foreign buyers.”

Friedmann said agricultural exporters, with very few exceptions, would not have the option to move from the West Coast gates to the East and Gulf Coasts. But he warned customers, foreign buyers do.

“They are called Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand,” said Friedmann. “We don’t want to lose these customers.”

The NWSA is also a port importer of automobiles with a terminal for roll-on and roll-off vessels. With 172,979 units delivered, auto imports increased by 6.5% in 2022 compared to 2021. Kia and Hyundai Cars use this gateway.

CNBC reached out to the Port of Seattle and had no comment as of press time.

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