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MENAFN - AFP - 05/12/2012

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(MENAFN - AFP) Negotiators have reached a tentative agreement to end a week-long strike crippling the key US ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

The announcement, made on the mayor's official Twitter account late Tuesday, came after a federal mediator was called in to try to end the standoff over the ports, which handle 40 percent of US maritime imports, mainly from Asia.

The mayor did not immediately provide further details about the agreement.

The strike by clerical workers at the key US transport gateway, which constitutes the world's seventh biggest commercial harbor, has been costing billions of dollars to the local and wider US economy.

The White House said Monday it was monitoring the standoff closely, and earlier Tuesday Villaraigosa said the two sides had agreed to federal mediation, after he spent the night in negotiations himself.

The mayor said he had called Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George Cohen by phone and asked him to send a mediator. It was not clear whether the mediator had arrived before the deal was reached.

The strike by some 800 clerical staff from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) started at a terminal in Los Angeles port last Tuesday but spread to six other terminals and Long Beach the next day.

Some 10,000 ILWU members have honored the picket call, shutting down 10 of the 14 cargo container terminals at the complex.

The striking clerical workers say they have been without contracts since June 2010, and claim that the Harbor Employers Association wants to outsource their jobs.

Employers' chief negotiator Stephen Berry countered that the strike was over "demands that we hire people they don't need."

The National Retail Federation (NRF) noted that the recovery from a 10-day lockout of West Coast ports in 2002 took six months and cost the economy an estimated 1 billion a day.

More than 95 percent of cargo passing through Los Angeles is traded with Asia, predominantly with China and Japan, according to its website, which put the value of 2011 cargo trade with China/Hong Kong at 136 billion.

The Long Beach port supports over 30,000 jobs locally, 316,000 jobs in southern California and 1.4 million jobs throughout the United States, according to its website.

The strike has forced container ships so far to divert to other ports in California, notably Oakland, up the coast near San Francisco, and Mexico.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that US President Barack Obama was concerned about the West Coast strike.

"We -- and that includes the president -- continue to monitor the situation in Los Angeles closely and urge the parties to continue their work at the negotiating table to get a deal done as quickly as possible," he said.

Pressed on whether Obama could intervene in the dispute, he added: "He is concerned... and we at the White House and broadly in the administration are concerned."


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