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NRF: Imports will slow in December as holiday rush ends


Washington, D.C. - Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to continue to slow down in December. According to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, import volume at U.S. ports covered by the Global Port Tracker report is expected to total 1.37 million containers this month as the holiday shipping cycle winds down.

Imports set an all-time record of 1.59 million containers in September as retailers rushed to bring merchandise into the country ahead of any disruption on the docks. The contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expired on July 1, 2014, prompting concerns about potential disruptions that could affect holiday merchandise.

The lack of a contract and other operational issues have led to crisis-level congestion at the ports, and NRF in November asked President Obama to engage with the parties and encourage the use of a federal mediator to help with negotiations. A federal mediator can only be used if the parties make the request. A federal mediator helped parties to East Coast labor negotiations achieve a new deal in 2012.

“Retailers instituted costly contingency plans early on to ensure that holiday merchandise would be on the shelves or sitting in a warehouse ready to go,” said Jonathan Gold, VP for supply chain and customs policy, NRF. “However, we are still hearing from retailers experiencing delays at West Coast ports, and retailers are also looking ahead to the spring season. We believe it’s imperative for President Obama to encourage the parties to seek the help of a federal mediator to resolve the ongoing contract negotiations so serious solutions to address the ongoing issues can be discussed and the uncertainty that has plagued our nation’s busiest ports for months can finally be brought to an end.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.56 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 2% from September but up 8.5% from October 2013 as the economy continued to grow. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

November was estimated at 1.41 million TEU, up 4.8% from the prior year, and December is forecast at 1.37 million TEU, up 3.8%.

Those numbers would bring 2014 to a total of 17.2 million TEU, an increase of 6.2% from 2013’s 16.2 million. Imports in 2012 totaled 15.8 million. The first half of 2014 totaled 8.3 million TEU, up 7% from the previous year. January 2015 is forecast at 1.41 million TEU, up 2.5% from January 2014, February at 1.34 million TEU, up 8% from the prior year, March at 1.33 million TEU, up 2.2%, and April at 1.46 million TEU, up 2.1%.
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