Mark Szakonyi, December 19, 2014, JOC.com
The Japanese government recently expressed concern to the U.S. government regarding delays of U.S. forage exports because of U.S. West Coast port congestion, according to an agriculture shipper group.
Japanese authorities, presumably from the Ministry of Agriculture, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture about tardy U.S. shipments of hay, straw and alfalfa, commodities key to feeding livestock and horses, the Agriculture Transportation Coalition said. The USDA Foreign Agriculture Service’s Tokyo office said Thursday night it was not aware of the letter. The Washington office of the FAS didn’t immediately return a request for a copy of the letter.
“U.S. companies and growers are losing their entire season, and some will be put out of business,” Peter Friedmann, executive director of the AgTC, said in a statement. “Foreign buyers are being forced to find non-U.S. suppliers. This is what a crisis looks like.”
The letter is the first public sign of foreign pressure on the Obama administration to intervene to help the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and West Coast employers reach a deal on a labor contract after seven months of talks. The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents U.S. West Coast employers, accuses the union of engaging in slowdowns, a claim the union denies.
“It is beyond time for the White House to engage, watch the nightly news, read the newspapers, go to the ports, see the permanent damage being inflicted on the nation’s largest export sector and the jobs it provides, and either get the ILWU back to work, or replace them with the National Guard,” Friedmann said.
Japan is the top importer of U.S. hay, alfala and other forage products, having imported $603 million worth of the agriculture products in 2013, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. The value of such U.S. export commodities to Japan in the first 10 months of this year is down 11.8 percent compared to the same period in 2013. South Korea is the second-largest importer of U.S. hay, alfalfa and other forage products, followed by China and the United Arab Emirates.
Beyond the delayed forage shipments. McDonald’s said this week it was limiting French fry portions at its Japanese restaurants because shipments of U.S. processed potatoes were being held up at U.S. West Coast ports, according to reports. While much of the attention relating to port congestion has focused on retailers’ fretting about post-holiday restocking, U.S. agricultural exporters also are suffering, with Asia-bound Christmas trees wilting, and apples and other fruits rotting on the docks.