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Retail container imports to increase 8.5% in September; strong holiday numbers expected


Washington, D.C. -- Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 8.5% in September compared with the same month last year, and strong increases are expected into the holiday season despite talk of a possible strike at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Retailers are bringing in more merchandise for the holiday season this year,” said NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “The question at some ports is whether longshoremen will be on the docks to unload. Regardless of what happens with contract talks, retailers have contingency plans in place to ensure that merchandise reaches store shelves in time and that there is no disruption for shoppers.”

Talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance broke down in August, and at least one major ILA local has authorized a strike if a new contract for East Coast and Gulf Coast ports isn’t agreed on by the time the current pact expires September 30. Labor and management have agreed to meet again next week under the supervision of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Retailers are considering a variety of contingency plans, including diverting cargo to West Coast ports, which are represented by a separate union and not affected.

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said shipping patterns are being affected by the possibility of a strike.

“Importers anticipating a strike placed orders early to ensure that their goods would arrive in time, and are most likely also switching deliveries for the East Coast to the West Coast instead,” Hackett said. “As a consequence, August appears to have been a relatively good month, and September will also be above the norm. The West Coast will benefit at least through October as cargo is diverted.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.41 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 2.2% from June and 2.5% from July 2011. One TEU is one 20-ft. cargo container or its equivalent.

August was estimated at 1.43 million TEU, up 4.4% from last year. September is forecast at 1.49 million TEU, up 8.5%; October at 1.48 million TEU, up 11.7%; November at 1.32 million TEU, up 1.9%; and December at 1.25 million TEU, up 2.7%.

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