GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ — On June 16, the Nagato Reefer left the West Cape of South Africa laden with thousands of tons of Navel and Cara Cara oranges and clementines due for delivery at Holt Logistics’ Gloucester Marine Terminal.
At 8 a.m. July 3, a pilot boat left the dock in Philadelphia to meet the ship upriver and guide it into its berth.
The Gloucester dock was already abuzz awaiting the arrival. Grower-shippers, importers, even King Citrus, the new mascot of the South African citrus industry, at the helm on the captain’s bridge of the refrigerated cargo ship the Nagato Reefer in Gloucester, NJ. (Photo by Chip Carter)South African Consul for Trade Affairs Gugulethu Gingqi were on hand, celebrating the 15th year of the country’s citrus trade with the U.S.
Six importers work together to bring South African citrus to North America and have “strategically looked at this market and said, ‘Do we open it to everybody or do we choose our importers with care that have South Africa’s best interest at heart?’“ said importer AMC Direct Inc. Vice President of Operations Miles Fraser-Jones.
Said AMC National Accounts Manager Casey Kio, “Everybody has the same agenda — no one importer’s trying to outdo the other. They all want the same result to the grower and you don’t see that from other import countries or even domestic growers — California citrus doesn’t operate that way, Florida citrus doesn’t operate that way.”
Once the product arrives, “We compete head on with each other, but it’s for the greater good,” Fraser-Jones said.
It is a unique partnership in a region that is built on unique partnerships. While the infrastructure along the Delaware River — including ports, stevedores, expediters and brokers, customs agents, fumigators, truckers and transporters, interstate and rail systems — may have begun as an ad hoc collection of individual business operators, it has coalesced into maybe the nation’s finest example of a region working together for the betterment of the whole.
Thirty years ago, the first imports of Chilean grapes into the U.S. marked a revolution for the Delaware River region that is still ongoing as it has become the fruit import capital of North America.
“Within an overnight drive of Philadelphia there are well over 100 million consumers,” said Holt Logistics President Leo Holt. The emergence of the region as an international fruit import center is “a demonstration of the interdependence of countries and cultures. Like Benjamin Franklin said, no nation was ever hurt by trade.”
And much of that trade happens along the Delaware River.
“The facilities are definitely conducive to this type of business, the infrastructure is there so that’s quite helpful,” said shipper Howard Posner, general manager of Seatrade USA. “Port authorities themselves used to be a lot more aggressive, they’ve kind of put some of the reefer [trade] on the backburner. But Philly is good access to the consumer market, good access to the Canadian markets and I don’t see that changing.”
Ship Philly First is a three-year-old private marketing organization, comprised of business owner-operators from the committee, designed to more aggressively market the area.
“The expediters, the custom brokers, the truckers, there’s so much infrastructure here it’s mind-boggling,” said Fred Sorbello, SPF president and owner of New Jersey’s Mullica Hill Group. “But it’s mature — it’s been here 30 years. It would be hard to recreate that. When something’s been organically grown for 30-40 years it’s hard to recreate.
“But who’s marketing Philadelphia to the rest of the world? We didn’t feel it was being done effectively enough so we organized,” Sorbello said. “We don’t care who gets the business — as long as Philadelphia gets the business, we all win.”
Holt sees much of the international trade that comes into the region from his office overlooking the Delaware. He understands how interconnected the region is, how all the players rely on each other to keep Philly a top-of-mind destination for international shippers.
“What we do here seems very basic, but it primes the pump. And that pump is innovation, opportunity: Industry feeds a village, that village is able to educate their kids and they’re able to go to the next step. It’s a cycle,” Holt said. “There are 10 million tons of citrus produced in the U.S. that’s excellent, so what comes in from South Africa, Chile, Spain, is — to say a drop in the bucket is not even fair — it’s a breath, but it’s the lifeblood of longshoremen and teamsters and drivers.
“It’s a testimony to globalization, and I think that means good things for U.S. products as well. These ships go both ways,” Holt said. “Because we’re a bigger consumer than we are a producer, there are big freight and supply chain opportunities.”
But anyone involved in international trade today has to “bet on safety, sustainability and efficiency,” Holt said. “There’s an awareness today of the long-term harm that’s done if people are rapacious. You leave behind a bitter taste that can spring back on you in two or three generations. We should be prepared to support [international producers] for what they put into a product if it’s good, and the people on that side should be willing to invest in themselves. From my perspective, it’s all about free trade, and trade in general is a thing that breeds understanding.”