For the past several months, a potential longshoremen’s strike at major East Coast and Gulf Coast ports has created a cloud of uncertainty for exporters of U.S. beef and pork. The existing contract between the U.S. Maritime Alliance and the International Longshoremen’s Association was originally set to expire Sept. 30. A 90-day contract extension meant the new deadline for a possible strike was Saturday, Dec. 29.
With this deadline rapidly approaching, Friday’s morning 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, U.S. Meat Export Federation (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.
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 for U.S. pork 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.