As a port strike in Chile entered its third week, U.S. importers remained unsure of its possible effects on fruit exports to the U.S.
Workers at Chile’s Port of San Antonio began striking Jan. 3 over retroactive pay for lunch breaks. On Jan. 13, police special forces entered the port and took forceful action against strikers, including the use of water cannons, to protect non-striking workers.
Police also have arrested some strikers, according to media reports.
A meeting was held Jan. 22 between workers, unions and port and government officials, but no agreement was reached, said Karen Brux, North American managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif.
Despite the length of the strike, the extent to which U.S. supplies of Chilean fruit will be affected, if at all, remained unclear the week of Jan. 20.
“It sounds like it is becoming a bigger issue, but nobody is coming out with anything definitive,” said Josh Leichter, general manager of Fresno, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC.
In the week ending Jan. 18, U.S. imports of Chilean avocados, blueberries, cherries, grapes, nectarines and peaches were up from the week before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Imports of Chilean avocados, cherries and grapes were higher in the week ending Jan. 18 than in the same week in 2013. Blueberry, nectarine and peach imports were lower.
U.S. importers have said the strike, coming less than a year after another one at a Chilean port, could hurt the image Chile is trying to cultivate of being business-friendly.
According to media reports, shipping giant Maersk Line agrees. According to a story published on the website fis.com, a Maersk official said the frequent strikes make potential trading partners wonder if Chilean ports are safe, and if they should take their business to other countries.
Maersk did not return requests for comment.