You may have heard about the recent transportation strikes in Colombia, the longest such strikes in Colombia’s history. Then again, you may have not.
After 46 days of strike, agreements were reached with Colombia’s trucker’s unions including concessions on truck maintenance, an affordable housing program for small trucking businesses, and the foundation of a legal commission to oversee disputes. Some unresolved issues include fuel costs, and tolls instituted by private firms who are currently developing Colombia’s road infrastructure.
As importers, we are intimately familiar with the process of moving containers of coffee in producing countries like Colombia, and often there are roadblocks to this movement. Sometimes, movements (of both the political and social sort) create literal roadblocks, and containers full of coffee are stuck in the countries of origin. Though this makes our job more difficult, it is important to consider why protests like these are started, and what can be done to help everyone in the supply chain feel valued and respected.
Though the transportation strike is the one that directly affects us, there are also concurrent agrarian and austerity protests throughout the country. Meanwhile, refugees from Venezuela are pouring through the recently opened border, seeking staple foods and necessities that are also in high demand within Colombia due to the strikes. Though this may seem like the perfect storm, trucker strikes are fairly common in Colombia, where they have happened 13 times in the last 15 years.
As I noted in a previous article, truckers are feeling the effects of consolidation in the service sector. This relates not only to international cargo shipping consolidation, but also to trade partnerships that allow service sector businesses such as trucking conglomerates and road infrastructure development firms to bid on government procurement contracts. In short, the Colombian government must take the lowest possible bid for these projects, and international firms are able to provide lower bids than locally situated companies.
Much as the steamship lines are experiencing a glut of supply in regards to ships (many ships are slated to be taken out of commission this year; take a look at this article on shipbreaking in Bangladesh for more background), Colombia’s trucking industry is over capacity. Older trucks are being phased out in favor of more efficient models, but roughly 50,000 trucks that were supposed to be off the road are still making deliveries, making oversupply a persistent issue.
Perhaps most controversial are the toll systems in place throughout Colombia’s rapidly growing road system. Compromises with trucker’s unions have not yet been made in this department, as a massive development project called the “Fourth Generation of Roads Project” (or 4G for short, and part of a larger infrastructure program) is reliant on the proceeds taken from the current toll system, as it is a public-private partnership. Needless to say, this program cannot satisfy every player in Colombia’s economic ecosystem, and any major development project like this is prone to hiccups and bottlenecks.
Fortunately for us, and for those people in Colombia who enjoy staple foods, the strike is over after 46 days. Some demands have been met, and some fears have been allayed.
The strike has delayed several shipments to Royal Coffee and in turn, to our customers. Delays range from the negligible to six weeks. Now that the strike is officially over flows are starting to increase, but not all the delayed shipments can be loaded at once, and there are sure to be delays at port due to congestion. The entire Colombian economy has been held back during this strike, and all sectors are now scrambling for bookings in the normally congested ports. It may take a month or two to clear up the back log and return to standard shipping times. We anticipate our delayed contracts will be shipped in the next two to three weeks.
In the meantime, we still have some spot lots available of some excellent Colombian coffees to hold you over. Mejor de Tolima lots like 35576W – Colombia Mejor de Tolima Yamid Diaz Arias Caturra GrainPro are available in Seattle, while 35734 – Colombia Tolima FTO Del Rio remains a solid choice in Houston, and 35475 – Colombia Nariño Buesaco El Manzano Luis Gomez Caturra GrainPro is a stellar choice out of our Oakland warehouse.
For the forward thinking value driven shopper, we have the following lots just going afloat to Oakland, Madison, and Seattle. These are some excellent first-semester harvest coffees that are sure to add caramel sweetness to your blends, without breaking the bank:
- 37109 – Colombia Cauca Excelso EP
- 0037280W – Colombia Cauca Excelso EP
- 0037110M – Colombia Cauca Excelso EP
Colombia has an extremely complex post-colonial history, and this is proving to be yet another chapter in the growing pains this country has experienced. For now, Colombia’s trade keeps on trucking, and we look forward to receiving all the beautiful coffee they bring to market.