Opinion: Chile must protect perishable exports from strikes
By Fedefruta president Cristián Allendes
The call to joint action with port workers by Chile's Student Federation (Confech) is a reminder that we should not forget the damage done to fruit exporters from the strike at the end of March and beginning of April.
How much did it really hurt us? That is still being determined since the fruit held up in San Antonio for three weeks is still being sold, especially grapes which experienced many condition problems.
We have already received concerning reports from South Korea, Russia, the United States and Europe, where buyers accepted the late fruit for a lower dollar price per box. Many boxes arrived at a time when import taxes were higher than for the originally agreed upon arrival date.
Various exporters decided not to take the risk and sold the fruit in Chile or other alternative markets. But the majority of exporters opted to send the fruit to their originally intended destinations, knowing that it could be lost and that nothing else could be done.
We are aware of what happens in these cases in particular. We do, however, have to consider that the price will drop greatly due to this cause alone. In some cases, the boxes are unwanted and are thrown out due to condition problems.
Generated losses were calculated at around US$50 million. Once we consider the liquidations, we can determine the true impact, which will be big.
More than measure, however, the important thing is to seek legal action against those responsible to mitigate losses that were produced and are being produced - a topic currently in development. As a federation and as producers, we believe someone must pay the bill.
A few months after what happened in San Antonio, we consider it absolutely necessary to consider how to prevent that such a severe contingency damages producers in such a way again.
Our proposal in this regard is a specific law to protect perishable products during a strike. The objective would be that fruit, meat and grains, among other things, be protected from strikes and continue along the chain.
We will not ask for special treatment, but the necessary consideration for an industry that sustains two million people in Chile and feeds many more. Something to take into consideration is that in the United States, there is already enforcement to maintain the distribution and food supply chain despite labor strikes.
This is of great importance to us, since this could happen to any export product and leave a population without food. The solution would be to create a tool similar to what exists in hospitals when workers fulfill ethical shifts during days of mobilization.
For the same reason, we will speak with authorities like the Ministry of Interior and the Labor Ministry, as well as parliamentarians to raise awareness on the urgency of such legislation. As the name says, these are perishable products and during a strike, they do spoil and no one answers for it.
We represent more than 28,000 producers that saw their 300,000 hectares at risk from an illegal and unjust strike. We are not willing to let this happen again.