Auckland port strikes unlikely to impact NZ fruit exports

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Auckland port strikes unlikely to impact NZ fruit exports

Union strikes at the Ports of Auckland are unlikely to impact fruit exports out of New Zealand this year, industry sources have told

Ongoing disputes between Ports of Auckland management and Maritime Union officials have caused major problems for other food exporters, including New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra.

However, most fruit exports leave the country from other ports south of Auckland, which are operating as normal.

A spokesperson for the world’s largest marketer of kiwifruit, Zespri, says the strike will not have any effect on the company's shipments.

"Zespri's product goes through the Port of Tauranga, so the Auckland strike does not have any impact on us," the spokesperson said.

"Besides, our shipping season has finished until the 2012 crop is harvested late April-early May, so we have no shipping underway at the moment anyway."

This is mostly the case as well for pome fruit exporters, whose season for exporting apples and pears will not start for another four to six weeks. Pipfruit NZ services manager Gary Jones says the vast majority of fruit is shipped out of Napier and Nelson.

"Between them accounts for about 90% of total export production, so those are the two key ports for us.

"There’s some that goes through Tauranga and then there’s some that goes through Dunedin, but an insignificant quantity would get shipped through Auckland."

John Scott of exporter New Zealand Gourmet says the company's stonefruit season will also be unaffected by strikes since all of its product is air freighted.

A spokesperson for Ports of Auckland says strikes are "of concern to importers and exporters of fresh produce" thanks to the importance of a reliable supply of "time sensitive cargo", but admits there has been "little impact".

"This is because of the time of the year - with abundant local produce, there are less imports, and in terms of exports it is too early for the onion harvest and for other commodities such as apples."

Ports of Auckland has been in discussions with the union since March, and the industrial action has cost millions of dollars, as well as a contract with shipping company Maersk.

During that time many vessels have adjusted their schedules, either a day early or a day late, to work around the days where there has been a strike.

Some of the biggest problems came in the days of the very first strike, on Dec. 2, in the lead up to the Christmas season. During this strike there was at least one importer that was unable to supply fruit as per contract, having to sell the delayed shipment at a reduced price, but no exporters were affected.

The next planned strike on Jan. 31 has been called off in return for a paid four-hour stop-work meeting between members of both parties.

During this time, Ports of Auckland will use non-union labor to keep services as normal and keep the truck gate open for continuous pick-up and delivery of import and export containers. Some ships will also be diverted to the multi-cargo wharves at Auckland, where third party contractors already operate outside of union labor.

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