U.S.: Port of Virginia now open for South American perishable produce

February 28 , 2019

South American perishables can now enter the U.S. through the Port of Virginia following the successful completion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Southeast In-Transit Cold Treatment Pilot program.

“We’re the U.S. East Coast’s leading vegetable exporter, and this designation positions us to achieve the same success with imported fruit,” said John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “This is important for logistics and supply chain managers importing agricultural products because it means this cargo will get to its market more quickly.”

In October 2017 the port began participating in the USDA’s pilot program that allowed imports of certain refrigerated fresh fruits from South America. Under the program, Virginia could import cold-treated containers of blueberries, citrus, and grapes from Peru, blueberries and grapes from Uruguay, and apples, blueberries, and pears from Argentina.

The approval, which was distributed this week, is effective immediately.

In the past, these time-sensitive shipments would have come to the East Coast and moved across ports in the Northeast. Prior to the program’s start in 2013, the perishables were required to enter Northeastern ports for cold treatment and clearance and were then transported to southern states for distribution into stores.

There will be many beneficiaries of the change, Reinhart said. Shippers will see lower transportation costs and longer shelf life for their products, while consumers will see lower prices at the store and there will be environmental benefits from reduced emissions-related transportation.

The program enables containerized imports to enter the port directly after completing a two-week cold treatment process as a safeguard against fruit flies and other pests, as well as acquiring all the required unloading clearances prior to the shipment’s arrival in port. 

The approval coincides with the port’s effort to expand its capacity to handle refrigerated cargo. The port is investing a combined US$700 million to expand capacity at its two primary container terminals, Virginia International Gateway (VIG) and Norfolk International Terminals (NIT). The investment includes more room for refrigerated cargo at each terminal.

“We’re expanding the stack-yard at VIG and reconfiguring the yard at NIT, and both of these projects include new reefer racks for each stack,” Reinhart said. “

"When construction is finished, we’ll have nearly 900 reefer spaces at each terminal, which is a 66 percent increase in total reefer capacity. We have the necessary federal approval and capacity to help develop Virginia into an export and import center for refrigerated cargo.”

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