Chile: second week of strikes brings uncertainty to export sector

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Chile: second week of strikes brings uncertainty to export sector

In the second week of stoppages at Chile's San Antonio port, the export sector has begun to register initial damages inflicted to the nation's economy and reputation.

"Port strike = unemployment" outside of the Agricom offices

"Port strike = unemployment" outside of the Agricom offices

The Chilean Fruit Grower's Federation, Fedefruta, continued its vocal opposition to the strikes yesterday, noting a serious impact on exports for blueberries, stonefruit and table grapes from the central and northern regions.

Click here for background on the issue.

"In Region IV (Coquimbo), they have had to endure eight years of drought and with this uncertainty caused by a minority group, grape growers at the peak of their season in north-central Chile are at risk of losing everything," Fedefruta said.

One such northern grape exporter, Agricom, said that although the category has avoided extensive losses so far, greater damages await down the road.

"We have certain routes that have not had a problem and fortunately with our most important category today, grapes, we haven’t had any problems with our most important clients," explained the company's summer general manager, Andrés Astillaga.

"But there are others that are going to be important in a few more weeks that are realizing there might be problems."

The conflict in San Antonio has limited the company to alternative export routes out of Coquimbo and Valparaiso. Although the exporter has still been able to fulfill commitments in the U.S., its business in Mexico and Europe has been severely restricted.

"For us it is a serious problem not to have all of the markets open. While there are many markets that can operate from Valparaiso or from San Antonio, the export potential is not normal. We are working at a very slow speed and some markets have cargo restrictions," he told

"It’s a very complex problem because some clients want to work with certain ports. For example, to ship to Manzanillo, Mexico, it has to come from San Antonio. Now, that route doesn’t exist."

The company has already lost business with clients in Europe and Mexico who cannot or will not adapt to alternative trade routes.

"It’s a delicate problem because we are projecting our image terribly. As a country, we are giving terrible signals and there are clients that are simply opting to look elsewhere wondering if this is a habitual problem or not," he said.

"Last year this happened in March. This wasn’t normal but now this makes you think that this could happen again. The truth is, I’ve worked here for a while and I have never seen this situation, at least not in this form."

The strike has shaken the company's confidence in its own capacities as well and forced much more reserved operations.

"We know we can’t risk loading a high-volume shipment if we don’t have availability for departure. Starting from production, we are controlling and directing destinations. We are trying not to make the problem bigger and we are managing the situation. It’s controllable but everything has limits," he said.

Berry exporter Nader Musleh of California Giant Berry Farms seconded Astillaga's sentiments, explaining the pervasive lack of certainty across the supply chain.

"[Importers] are very worried and asking what to expect but it’s difficult to say when there is so much uncertainty. We try to make projections but the projections change from one day to the next. The word of the moment is 'uncertainty'," Musleh told

"We have been able to export from other ports but it changes every day. Not all of the ports are available. One day a port is available and the next it’s not. So we adjust to the situation but it keeps getting worse."

He said the company has already lost berries that were unable to leave Chilean shores.

"There is some fruit that we simply could not ship and after days of waiting, we had to redirect it for freezing. There are others that we’ve had to send by air freight and that comes with higher costs," he said.

"It has been very difficult for producers to overcome this port strike."

The berry company has experienced complications for all of its destinations, including the U.S., Europe and Asia.

"We’ve been delayed by one or two weeks and have had to lower certain commitments and have had to say that during certain dates the cargo could not go out. There is some cargo that we’ve had to combine and ship out together. It changes the entire arrival program and sales," Musleh said.

Political pressure

With the labor conflict showing no clear signs of rapid resolution, vocal opposition to the strike gained momentum in recent days.

Chilean deputies Victor Torres (DC) and María José Hoffman (UDI) called for greater intervention and demanded a government-imposed end to the strike.

"It is time for us to sit down and discuss how to resolve the demands from port workers. There are many productive sectors that are affected and it is imperative to restore honest dialogue and look each other in the face. I call for the government to reestablish dialogue now," Hoffman said.

Torres echoed the call for discussions, adding "it is time to listen to workers and those conflicted to establish an agreement that will bring a solution to this conflict."

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