Container import volumes at US ports are expected to see a significant jump this month, a trade body has forecast.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects volumes to increase by 7.5% this month due to the threat of a potential strike by dockworkers. It retailers are expected to bring "unusually high quantities of merchandise" into the country early to avoid any potential disruptions after the labor contract with West Coast dockworkers expires.
"We don't want to see disruptions at the ports but retailers are making sure they are prepared in case that happens," NRF spokesman Jonathan Gold said. The Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union began negotiations last month on a new contract to replace the agreement that expires 30 June. West Coast ports handle more than two-thirds of US retail container cargo, including the bulk of cargo from Asia. The last major coast-wide shutdown there occurred in the fall of 2002, closing ports for 10 days and creating a months-long backlog to be cleared. The major US container ports handled 1.43nteu in April. The number was up 9.9% from March and 10.3% from April 2013. May was estimated at 1.47mteu, up 5.8% from the same month last year, and June is forecast at 1.46mteu, up 7.5% from last year. "Both are unusually high numbers not normally seen until later in the summer or fall, a sign that retailers have begun bringing imported merchandise into the country early because of the uncertainty of what could happen when the labor contract expires," the NRF said. July is forecast at an even-higher 1.51mteu, up 4.4% from last year; August at 1.52mteu, up 1.9%; September at 1.45mteu, up 0.8%; and October at 1.48mteu, up 3.4%. The first half of the year is expected to total 8.3mteu, up 6.5% over last year. The total for 2013 was 16.2mteu, up 2.3% from 2012’s 15.8mteu. The NRF figures cover the US ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York, New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.