Demand in Hong Kong for organic produce bolsters Oregon ag exporters

USDA report indicates Hong Kong consumers eager for organic label.

Share this article!


The organic market in Hong Kong is one of the fastest growing in the world.

That could bolster Oregon agriculture exporters who want to get in on the $7.7 million of produce sent to Asia in 2014, reports.

Your USDA Organic — and, to a lesser extent, Oregon Tilth — sticker matters in the international market. Hong Kong has two organic certification bodies, but the USDA branding holds the same weight to Hong Kong consumers. It matters so much that U.S. organic exporters face steep competition in Hong Kong from fakers. At produce markets, a customer faces plenty of organic options — but two-thirds are grown conventionally and labeled with an organic sticker so the sellers can charge a higher price. According to the USDA, 6 percent of vegetable growers in early 2015 could prove the validity of their organic claims, but 12 percent could not.

Oregon is third in the U.S. for organic sales, behind California and Washington. According to the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture, Oregon had 554 farms reporting they had marketed organic products with sales exceeding $194 million. That’s only 1.5 percent of the state’s 35,439 farms,  and less than 4 percent of Oregon’s total cash receipts for 2012. However, it’s a growing industry, with similarly expanding demand domestically and internationally.

While the USDA report is encouraging in some respects, it comes shortly after Oregon’s main line to Asia was cut by Hanjin’s decision to end its service to Portland.

While the other ports on the West Coast have slowly gotten back to work after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the terminal operators reached an agreement, fighting continues at the Port of Portland, the Portland Tribune reports.

The labor-mangement dispute at Terminal 6 at the Port of Portland is continuing. Now the terminal operator and the union representing its workers are sparring over a recent letter from 14 Oregon legislators urging them to make peace. The terminal is operated by ITCSI Oregon, the local arm of an international terminal operating company based in the Phillipines. The workers are represented by Local 8 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. They have been fighting for years, with each side accusing the other of causing work slowdowns that recently prompted Hanjin Shipping — the largest shipping line serving the terminal — to pull out of the port entirely.

The bi-partisan group of legislators wrote to leaders on both sides on March 10. They also sent the letter to the heads of the ILWU International and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents all port operators on the West Coast. In the letter, the legislators blamed Hanjin’s departure on the dispute that has been happening since 2012 and called it a blow to Oregon’s economy. Hanjin provided around 80 percent of the service at Terminal 6.

The terminal operator and union issued contentious responses. From ICTSI Oregon: “ICTSI Oregon, Inc. appreciates the lawmaker’s concern and is open to all constructive efforts to find a resolution. The issue continues to be that the ILWU has engaged in — and been found guilty of — a systematic campaign to undermine the terminal’s success. We are glad that lawmakers understand the importance of Terminal 6 to Oregon’s economy and hope their concern will encourage the ILWU to become a partner for progress. Only then will the terminal once again be an attractive stop for carriers coming into the Port of Portland,” said ICTSI Oregon Chief Executive Officer Elvis Ganda, referring to ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon that ILWU Local 8 violated his order to end a slowdown.

Jennifer Sargent, spokeswoman for the union, responded by saying: “The signers of this letter didn’t contact the union to discuss these issues, and that’s unfortunate. We’d have asked them to consider the fact that the Port of Portland has ten marine terminals, all of which are experiencing good labor relations and optimal production except for the one operated by ICTSI. ICTSI signed conflicting contracts when coming from the Philippines to operate Terminal 6 in 2010, and ICTSI has been sued by its peers in the shipping industry — its fellow employers — for failing to abide by its labor agreement. Terminal 6 doesn’t have a labor problem; it has a management problem. As in any workplace, when poor management improves, productivity follows, said the statement,” said Sargent, referring to a lawsuit between ICTSI Oregon and the PMA.

On Friday, a federal judge said the ILWU would have to pay $60,000 for a work slowdown at the terminal, the Portland Tribune reports.

Tne terminal operator — ICTSI Oregon — says the order by U.S. District Judge Michael Simon shows the union is to blame for the problems at the port.

“Judge Simon ruled that ILWU leadership encouraged ILWU members to engage in unlawful work stoppages and slowdowns and directed and coordinated their actions. Judge Simon also found that, in some cases, ILWU Local 8 officers themselves directly participated in this conduct,” ITCSI North American CEO Elvis J. Ganda said.

Sargent responded: “It’s standard procedure when the Board prevails in court to pay market rate attorney fees for their time. The money reimbursed to the Board is based on market rates and is far above their actual expenses — so the Board and government actually profit from workers by pursuing litigation against their unions. In this case, though the Board was successful in part, it largely lost, because the Board’s pursuit of contempt charges after August of 2013 going forward was denied by the judge. The contempt finding narrowly applied only to work involving refrigerated containers, and only to a limited period of time that ended almost two years ago.”


Latest from Oregon Business Team