As West Coast ports continue to clear the cargo backlog amassed during a prolonged labor contract dispute and retailers prepare for shipments for the fall and holiday shopping seasons, the volume of imports is bound to rise.
In the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, import volume for the first half of 2015 is forecast to increase 3 percent from a year ago to 8.6 million containers. Following an increase of 13.5 percent to 1.48 million containers in March , the figure for April is expected to grow 8 percent from last April to 1.55 million containers.
Imports will continue to rise through the summer, with an uptick of 5.6 percent anticipated in May, 4.3 percent in June, 5.6 percent in July and 5.7 percent in August.
In contrast, the ports showed a decline of 3.6 percent to 1.2 million containers in February, which is historically the slowest month of the year, from a year ago. That was also the month that the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union agreed on a new contract to replace the previous one that expired last July.
“Progress is being made but there’s still a lot of cargo waiting to be loaded onto trucks and trains and moved across the country even after it’s unloaded from the ships,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “The situation is getting better but we’re still far from normal.”
The PMA and ILWU tentatively agreed on a new five-year contract covering 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports on February 20. During the nine months of negotiations, alleged slowdowns and suspensions of operations at the ports hampered productivity until U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and a federal meditor intervened. ILWU leadership recommended on April 3 that union members vote for the contract’s ratification, and the final tally will be counted on May 22.
“Great measures are being taken to clear the backlog of ships sitting offshore,” said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett. “Of course, all those ships being discharged are causing landside issues as workers try to get containers out of the terminal gates and onto trucks and rail.”