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Global Port Tracker: Import volume might set record in August due to lingering labor issue


Import volume at major U.S. ports is projected to reach a record level in August as retailers concerned about lingering negotiations regarding a West Coast longshoremen’s contract continue to swiftly bring holiday season merchandise into the country, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released yesterday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

Import volume in August is expected to total 1.54 million containers, which would represent the highest monthly volume since NRF began tracking imports in 2000, topping the previous record of 1.53 million units set in July.

Retailers began importing merchandise early in anticipation of this summer's contract talks between the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union, NRF and Hackett Associates officials said in a press release. The longshoremen’s contract expired on July 1. Although dockworkers remain on the job while both sides continue to negotiate a new agreement, any labor disruption could affect the flow of back-to-school or holiday merchandise later this year, NRF and Hackett Associates officials said.

"The negotiations appear to be going well, but each week that goes by makes the situation more critical as the holiday season approaches," said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. "Retailers are making sure they are stocked up so shoppers won’t be affected regardless of what happens at the ports."

In addition to August, Global Port Tracker forecasts the following volumes for 2014's last four months: September, 1.48 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), which would represent a 2.8 percent year-over-year increase; October, also 1.48 million TEUs, a 3.3 percent gain; November, 1.37 million TEUs, a 2 percent increase; and December, 1.34 million TEUs, a 2.1 percent gain.

If forecasts hold true, volume in 2014 would total 17.1 million TEUs, which would represent a 5.2 percent increase over 2013, NRF and Hackett Associates officials said.

In addition to antsy retailers worried about contract negotiations, volume increases reflect economic improvements, said Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett.

"U.S. GDP has increased in 11 out of the last 12 quarters, confirming that we are in a sustained period of expansion," he said.

Global Port Tracker monitors activity at ports in Los Angeles/Long Beach and Oakland, Calif.; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; Houston; New York/New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Fla.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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