Chile Port Strikes Spread as Minister Warns of Product Shortages

Chile’s port strike is expanding and costs are mounting, prompting the government to warn it threatens to trigger shortages of basic goods and drive up prices.

State-owned copper miner Codelco, fruit growers and the nation’s second-largest pulp exporter Empresas CMPC SA (CMPC) all say protesters are blocking their shipments. Supplies of coal, which powers about 20 percent of Chilean power plants, will be at risk if strikes continue, Finance Minister Felipe Larrain said today.

Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei is scheduled to meet port operators and unions today to negotiate an end to stoppages that started March 16 in the northern port of Angamos. Workers at San Antonio, the country’s largest port, joined the strike later that month in solidarity with Angamos, while the nearby port of Valparaiso began protests yesterday.

“Time is running out to find a solution,” Larrain told reporters in Santiago today. “We are concerned about the economic impact of the port stoppage. If this continues we will start to see shortages and price increases.”

Chile is the world’s leading producer of copper, shipping $42 billion last year. The stoppages are restricting exports of the metal by 60 percent and come as workers threaten to protest for greater job security at mines belonging to BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) and Anglo American Plc. (AAL) Copper for delivery in May fell 0.2 percent at 1:48 p.m. in Santiago to $3.345 a pound.

Fruit Growers

CMPC is unable to load ships with 6,400 cubic meters (226,000 cubic feet) of wood, 42,000 metric tons of pulp and 12,000 tons of cardboard, CMPC Secretary General Gonzalo Garcia said in an e-mailed statement on April 3. The backlog of shipments may slow port activity for two months after strikes end, he said.

Fruit producers today filed legal action to force San Antonio to restart exports as growers suffer an estimated $60 million in losses, industry association Fedefruta said in a statement posted on its website. Three million boxes of grapes, apples and plums destined mainly for the U.S., South Korea and Mexico are trapped in the port, it said.

Angamos port operator Ultraport said in its last statement, published April 3, it was open to negotiations and would meet union demands that include a half-hour lunch break. Protesters indicated they would meet with Minister Matthei in a statement e-mailed today by Angamos union representative Richard Orellana.

“She better come with solutions,” he wrote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Randall Woods in Santiago at rwoods13@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

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