Northwest Grain Purchases Diminish as
by Richard Read
PENDLETON, Ore. -- Longshore grain talks resuming Monday are already hurting farmers as Portland-area terminal owners skip bids on wheat in case of a lockout, upriver traders say.
The terminal operators order wheat, corn and soybeans from Northwest and Midwest farm co-ops and load it on vessels for export. They don't want to get stuck with goods they can't ship if contract negotiations break down, according to co-op managers and a national industry expert.
The talks between Portland, Vancouver and Puget Sound grain-terminal companies and the West Coast longshore union have already depressed exports from Northwest ports, said Ken Eriksen, senior vice president at Informa Economics, a consulting and research firm in Memphis, Tenn.
Eriksen, an economist and onetime Tacoma longshoreman, said he's encountered buyers in Asia and Europe who are nervous about the talks and exploring alternative sources of grain.
"The world is paying attention," Eriksen said. "The perception is that there's a risk, so they're thinking that they're going to have to change their logistics."
Stakes are enormous because Northwest terminals handle about a quarter of the nation's $42 billion annual grain exports, which are increasing because of bumper crops in the region and growing demand from middle-class consumers in China and Southeast Asia. The big corporations that own the six terminals covered by the talks are girding for the possibility of a lockout, as longshoremen prepare to protest in boats and on shore.
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Grain and container players
Longshore union: Demands shipping lines pay longshoremen lost wages every time rival electricians tend refrigerated containers.
Shipping lines: Expected to contest the claims, topping $700,000. Hanjin Shipping's U.S. manager terms Portland situation a "fiasco."
National Labor Relations Board lawyers: Want judge to hold union in contempt of court for coercing shipping lines.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon: Holds Portland hearing Today.
ICTSI Oregon Inc.: Threatens to suspend operation of container terminal if shipping lines stop calling on Portland or send ICTSI the $700,000 bill.
Port of Portland: Fighting suit filed by longshoremen for bailing out ICTSI, Port won't step in if the company shuts terminal.
Exporters: Confront deal-killing expenses, if terminal closes, to truck cargo for shipment from alternate ports.
Longshore union: Negotiating for new contract at Portland, Vancouver and Puget Sound terminals that handle a quarter of U.S. grain exports.
Terminal owners: Want longshoremen to cut labor costs as they did this year at a Longview, Wash., grain terminal.
Federal mediator: Cloaks negotiations in secrecy, keeping grain handlers and union talking.
U.S. Coast Guard: Preparing for lockout by terminal owners of longshoremen, who plan protests on land and in boats.
Port of Portland: Installs alternate gate for neutral parties in case longshoremen picket Columbia Grain Inc.
Security companies: Prepare to assign workers to longshoremen's jobs and keep grain moving in case of a lockout.
Farmers: Watch nervously as bumper Northwest crops for sale at unusually high world prices pile up.
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