US imports on the up despite strike threat at ports

9/13/2012

Imports at major US container ports rose by 8.5% in September, compared with the same month last year, and further increases are expected, despite of talk of a possible strike at east coast and Gulf ports, according to the latest monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said: "Retailers are bringing in more merchandise for the holiday season this year. The question at some ports is whether longshoremen will be on the docks to unload it."

As reported in Lloyd’s Loading List.com last month, in the event of a strike by longshoremen, US retailers have contingency plans in place to ensure goods reach store shelves in time.

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett added: "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.

"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.’

Talks on issues including overtime rules and container royalties – payments to union workers based on the weight of cargo received at each port – broke down in August, and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and US Maritime Alliance have agreed to meet again next week under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent government agency.

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said: “The issue will only be resolved by agreeing to stay at the negotiating table until a final deal is reached. Failure to reach agreement will lead to supply chain disruptions which could seriously harm the US economy.

“We are facing a critical time. Now that there is a real risk of disruption, most retailers using the east and Gulf coast ports will be forced to executive contingency plans within the next week to meet in-store holiday deadlines.

“These plans carry great expense but they are necessary to avoid disruptions that will add costly delays to our members’ supply chains.”

The ILA represents about 1,200 of the port of New York and Jersey’s 3,500 longshoremen and around 1,500 at Savannah, the second-busiest container port on the east coast.

The US ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.41 million teu in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 2.2% on June 2012 and 2.5% ahead of July 2011. August is estimated at 1.43 million teu, up 4.4% year on year, and September at 1.49 million teu, up 8.5%.