Strikes force Chile to halt fruit harvest

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Strikes force Chile to halt fruit harvest

Growers from Chile's V (Valparaiso) to IX (Araucania) regions will stop harvesting on Friday due to the lack of storage facilities available, as a result of strikes in the key shipping port of San Antonio.

Press conference

Miguel Canala (ASOEX), Ronald Bown (ASOEX) and Cristian Allendes (Fedefruta)

This message was communicated by Fedefruta president Cristian Allendes and Chilean Fruit Exporters Association (ASOEX) president Ronald Bown during a press conference held in Santiago yesterday.

They said more than 40,000 hectares of fruit, including table grapes, apples, plums, nectarines and kiwifruit will be harmed by the paralyzation, and it is estimated that more than 100,000 workers will be affected.

"The strike, in addition to generating the problem that fruit can't go out, is creating collateral problems in the labor sector. We are speaking about at least 100,000 workers who could stop their functions, as a result of a compulsory need on our part," Bown said.

He said the current situation could last for another week, while the less optimistic are expecting the strike could go on for another month.

With more than 1,600 containers of fruit on hold in ports, losses were initially estimated to possibly exceed US$50 million. If we take into account the fact that in April 2012 around 20 million boxes were sent with a value of US$400 million, this initial estimate is likely to rise.

"This means making a call for sanity, a call to the government, and businesses involved to find solutions as soon as possible. This is something that is not just affecting the fruit industry but the country as a whole. It is estimated that more than US$270 million of losses have been added to date," Bown said.

Bown said that not only was the fruit put at risk, but the reliablity of Chile as a country for overseas customers; an image that has been built up over years as a safe and responsible industry that complies with its commitments.

"We will have problems in not meeting programs. The clearest example is grapes, which are no longer able to be sent to countries like Korea, the U.S. and Mexico, which have Marketing Orders for the fruit," Allendes added.

When asked whether export fruit would be given away on the streets like what happened in 1989, both representatives said they hoped the situation would not reach that point. However, Allendes said it would definitely be very difficult to re-arrange table grape allocation in other market, and it was imperative to open ports so that these strategies could be considered.

Bown said the government had not acted in a timely way and had not shown that it grasped the gravity of the situation.

This has raised an opportunity for the sector to safeguard against such events in the future. Allendes told the sector would join the executive to present a bill.

"There should be a law to prevent this from happening again. All products that are perishable should travel by another means, as in the end we are speaking about food for the population," he said.

"In the U.S. and other countries there are laws so that perishable products are not affected by strikes. Yesterday we raised this with the ministers, but in the coming weeks we will do so formally."

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