Chile already emerging from earthquake: groups may petition USDA
by Tad Thompson | March 01, 2010
PHILADELPHIA - While the Chilean fruit industry has been seriously disrupted
by the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Feb. 27, some fruit exporters
were loading fruit onto ships as soon as the afternoon of Feb. 28.
In a March 1 e-mail to The Produce News, Mark Greenberg, chief executive
officer of Fisher Capespan, said, "Communication out of Chile is hit-and-
miss. Telephone and Internet lines are coming back to normal. Cell phone
service as well."
Mr. Greenberg continued, "All of our exporters and growers are reporting that
they are safe and unharmed, although there has been infrastructural damage
that will affect shipping for the next few weeks. The main road that links the
southern growing areas to the port of Valparaiso has been compromised, but
there are alternatives."
Mr. Greenberg indicated that the primary fruit seaport of Valparaiso "is
partially operational and we expect that there will be some loading of fresh
produce this week, but it will be limited. Electricity has been a major issue
although many cold storages are equipped with gasoline generators to allow
them to keep operating until normal power returns. But this is not a perfect
solution and will slow down the process of shipping. As well, a number of
exporters are reporting damage to their cooling and warehousing facilities
and they are working valiantly to become operational once again. Logistics
will be the biggest issue: Fuel for power generators and truck transport is
scarce as distribution has been impacted. Even bunkering fuel for ships will
be a challenge. I expect that things will be very slow this week as all struggle
to become operational once again. Next week, I imagine that we will see
something that is starting to look a little more like normal. By Week 11, I am
hopeful that the Chilean exporters will be close to fully operational."
Robert Palaima, president of Delaware River Stevedores Inc., which manages
Philadelphia's Tioga Marine Fruit Terminal, who is also the president of the
Chilean & American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, told The
Produce News March 1 that he had been in contact with Chilean fruit grower
Alberto Feres of Iridio S.A., who related, "We are starting with the harvest of
the grapes" south of Santiago. This harvest "means an important volume --
I'd say between 50 and 60 percent of the total Chilean production."
Mr. Feres indicated that soon after the earthquake, activity "slowly came back
to the original program." Many workers suffered serious damage or
destruction of their homes. "Nevertheless I'm convinced that we will see the
normal activity in a couple of days."
Mr. Feres said that the port of Valparaiso was loading ships by Sunday
afternoon, Feb. 28.
San Antonio, a very significant Chilean seaport south of Valparaiso, also
experienced "some operational problems, they expect to restart activity today
(March 1) as well," Mr. Feres said, adding that roads to the ports had minor
problems, but trucks could reach the ports on March 1 with small delays.
A March 1 press release from ASOEX - the Santiago-based Chilean Exporters
Association -- indicated that Chile's port in Coquimbo was functioning
Mr. Palaima said that when fruit industry damage assessments from the
earthquake are complete, the Chilean & American Chamber of Commerce of
Greater Philadelphia may work in tandem with ASOEX to delay the April 10
U.S. Department of Agriculture deadline for importing certain varieties of
Chilean grapes. The USDA requires that Chilean grapes arriving after April 10
must meet higher quality standards that are more difficult to achieve.
Mr. Palaima said the reason for asking for an easing of restrictions would be
to provide help for Chilean exporters who are suffering losses due to the
earthquake. Extending the season for receiving large volumes of Chilean fruit
will also increase jobs for dockworkers in the United States - work that would
be lost if Chilean fruit volumes are curtailed. If there is a request for a
marketing order standards exception in 2010, the degree of the exception
will be in relation to the damage assessment by ASOEX.