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At ports, uncertainty mixes with high volume

Uncertainty at the West Coast ports has caused a rush of activity, according to a monthly tracking service.

Import volume at major U.S. container ports is expected to total 1.5 million containers this month, says the Global Port Tracker from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. That’s the highest monthly volume in at least five years and follows a trend of unusually high import levels that began this spring as labor strife pushed retailers to import merchandise ahead of any potential problems.

With West Coast longshoremen still negotiating a new contract, retailers are bringing holiday merchandise into the country at record levels to protect against potential supply chain disruptions.

“We’re still hoping to get through this without any significant disruptions, but retailers aren’t taking any chances,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF VP supply chain and customs policy. “Retailers have been bringing merchandise in early for months now and will do what it takes to make sure shelves are stocked for their customers regardless of what happens during the negotiations.”

On Monday, about 120 California truck drivers went on strike at three major transportation companies: Green Fleet, TTSI and Pacific 9 Transportation.

The contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expired on July 1. Dock workers remain on the job as both sides continue to negotiate a new agreement, and NRF has urged both labor and management to avoid any disruptions that could affect the flow of back-to-school or holiday merchandise.

Retailers have a number of contingency plans in place, and Global Port Tracker numbers show that some importers have begun shifting cargo to East Coast ports: West Coast ports handled 59% of U.S. retail container cargo in May, down from 62% in January.


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