Pressure on wine shipments mounts as US ports still deadlocked over contracts

Strike threats at western US sea ports are ongoing, with wine logistics experts predicting major problems for those who have not planned ahead.

Port employees at 29 ports on the western seaboard are threatening industrial action over new contracts, which could hit wine shipments, both in and out of the US, hard.

“There’s a lot of cargo going through these ports – the global supply of wine is a small part of it. They say that one week of strike action would take over a month to resolve – this could be an issue,” Tom Rappé of northern California’s Bear Creek Winery told harpers.co.uk.

As for moving the cargo to the east coast or out through Texas ports as a possible solution to the problem, Rappé maintains it not that simple. “Truckers will be in demand for this job, and the law of supply and demand dictates that prices ought to go up, leading to truckers charging more for transport.”

While finished wine in cases can travel by rail, it is much preferred that bulk wine goes by road.

Most industry professionals have known about this for a while, and prepared accordingly.  “But international customers who have not made early arrangements may be confronted with hurdles. They may suffer some delays,” Rappé said.

A source at a US-based wine import company, said if the strike takes place is could be a “major problem” for UK buyers of Californian wine, unless precautions have already been taken.

The source said that any possible strike action could also pose serious issues for New Zealand and Australian wine which go through the USA’s west coast ports. “Re-routing through the Panama Canal to the east coast would create delays and add cost.”

Port employees’ contracts are up for renewal on July 1, and negotiations have stalled over health and welfare benefits. The International Longshore & Warehouse Union, which represents the staff in 29 west coast ports, is meeting with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the carriers and terminals, to discuss the new contracts.

If these groups fail to reach agreement for new contracts, there could be slowdowns at ports, work stoppages, or strikes throughout the west coast, which would severely impact imports and exports.

Logistics firm Global Transportations, headquartered in Washington state, has advised those who use the west coast ports to draw up contingency plans, including shipping early and choosing different routes. 

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