Portuguese strike impacts 'very bad' for business, says fruit exporter

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Portuguese strike impacts 'very bad' for business, says fruit exporter

Portuguese ports have been gripped by strikes from various groups recently who are protesting over reduced wages and austerity measures. While it is hoped the picketing will end this week, at www.freshfruitportal.com we take a look at the impact these actions have had on the produce industry. The majority of the country's fruit exporters trade by land throughout the continent, but for those who ship to destinations further afield - particularly Brazil and even England and Ireland - costs have risen significantly.

While some Portuguese pear exporters look closer to home, companies like Lusopêra have chosen Brazil as a strategic trade partner with its rising middle class and increased purchasing power.

Businesses like Lusopêra bring not just helpful export revenue to a country in crisis but jobs, however with business grinding to a halt it may need to ask its 100 packinghouse workers to stay home today.

"The impact is very bad because we have 10 containers to send to our customers but the containers are staying at home," trade representative Filipe Silva tells www.freshfruitportal.com.

"Every packinghouse has their strategic market and in our case the strategic market is Brazil - they want the fruit they ordered but we don’t have solutions - if we tell them we can send by another port like Vigo and say "you must pay another €2,000", they don't want it."

Nonetheless, the company plans to direct four containers to Spanish ports such as Vigo or Algeciras, and will simply have to bear the cost.

"First there's the price of the container but you have the generator for the cooling system and that costs more, and if you spend more than one day then you pay a lot more."

Abrunhoeste SA is another Portuguese pear exporter and also deals in plums. Commercial manager Diogo Sampaio says the country's iconic Rocha variety pears have had a "strong market" in Brazil, but with the strikes there have been delays.

"We can load in Spanish ports but the transit time is a little bit longer and more expensive of course. It will take you between four and five days more.

"By container we have more expenses with transport done via Spain. We are 30km (18.6mi) from Lisbon so the cost from the Lisbon Harbor is very cheap, but if you need to send them to either Algeciras or La Coruña, you end up with €600-700 (US$780-909) per container in transport.

"If we sell less to Brazil because we have these problems, but we also have other clients in Europe and if we don't do it by container we do it by truck."

He says the company often ships containers to several European ports in the Netherlands, Ireland, England and Russia.

"In Europe it’s very easy  to avoid this strike, but the companies with a strong business in exports to Brazil, Angola and Morocco, and some who ship to Canada, we can't avoid the Spanish harbors."

Sampaio points out that at least Rocha pears are fairly strong for holding up long transit periods.

Portugal Fresh executive director José Canha said it was hoped the strikes would finish on Wednesday and fruit exports could resume from the nation's ports, but highlighted the impact of the strikes was not so large as most businesses distributed their produce in the European Union.

He added harvesting had finished with the country now exporting plums, apples, pears and pumpkins.

Withstanding austerity

Silva says the government needs to find a solution so that emergency workers can provide the minimum level of services in the country's ports, but he is also very critical of the strikers' actions.

"These guys have big salaries, I don’t know why they strike. There are more people that have reasons to strike but not these ones," he says.

"Everybody in Portugal has a reason to complain, but if we all did that nobody would work and we’d stop eating.

"I'm working too, and the government takes my salary as well - one payment of my salary this year - but I’m not striking. I just have to work more."

He says if the government is spending more than what it receives from taxpayers, it must have solutions to get the money but the problem lies in whether that will come from increased taxes or cutting social security.

"The problem is whether you can get the money from rich or poor people. I think from the poor is not a good thing, but that’s what’s happening.

"The people who work are the people who pay for the crisis, that’s the problem.

"If they cut very strongly from the rich people, no poor person will come to the streets complaining to the government, and that’s what’s happening everywhere."

One Portuguese source, who requested not to be named, said the economic crisis was taking its toll on the country's fruit market and also the industry's prospects elsewhere in Europe.

She said her company used to export fruit to several European Union markets but has pulled out to focus domestically, where there are still challenges in moving produce.

Photo: Lusopêra


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