The long-standing West Coast port labor dispute has come to a close as ports began to resume full operations on Saturday, Feb. 21. Although the final agreement must be ratified by the 13,000 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union before becoming officially binding, the fact that ports have reopened allowed American importers and exporters to exhale a giant, unified sigh of relief as threats of a shutdown (complete with losses near $2 billion a day) evaporated.
Still, port officials estimate it will take six to eight weeks to clear the existing backlog of cargo containers. It will take several months after for freight traffic to return to the normal rhythm that produce exporters and importers have grown to expect. For produce exporters and importers, this additional waiting time will no doubt spell spoiled crops and lost opportunities into the foreseable future.
Farmers were hit hardest by the shutdown, as export losses were estimated to cost hundred of millions of dollars every week. California Citrus Mutual updated their statement of losses, stating that their members had between 30% and 50% of their earning potential, representing an increase by 25% compared to previous estimates.
The end of this labor dispute is, without question, a boon for the U.S. economy. However, produce importers and exporters will still need to navigate slowed traffic due to the backlog, and many may decide to remain with expanding East Coast and Gulf ports that transferred their goods when the West Coast could not instead of allowing their crops to rot.