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US West Coast Ports Begin Working on Cargo Backlog

FILE - Two trucks move shipping containers at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California, Feb. 17, 2015.

Activity at U.S. Pacific Coast ports began the process of reducing the backlog of billions of dollars' worth of cargo late Saturday, following a tentative deal on a new labor contract between U.S. dockworkers and port operators, settling a dispute that disrupted the flow of cargo through 29 ports and snarled trade with Asia.

The deal was reached late Friday. However, the tentative contract must still be approved by the port operators and the members of the dockworkers union.

It was not immediately clear when a vote on the contract will take place.

In a joint statement, the president of the Pacific Maritime Association, James McKenna, and the president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Bob McEllrath, said they are pleased to have reached the tentative deal that is good for dockworkers and the shipping industry.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez oversaw four days of negotiations last week between the two sides in San Francisco in the western U.S. state of California.

The White House responded to the settlement by calling it a "huge relief" for the U.S. economy, particularly the many American workers, farmers and businesses that have been affected by the dispute.

A spokesperson said President Barack Obama is urging all parties, as they finalize their agreement, to clear out the congestion with ships at the West Coast ports.

The labor dispute, which began in July when a previous contract expired, tied up the West Coast ports for months and created a bottleneck for much of U.S. trade with Asia. Those ports handle more than a quarter of all U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of the nation's imports from Asia.

Cargo has been backed up, with large container ships remaining idle outside ports from southern California all the way north to the Canadian border.

Some material for this report came from AP.