US Container Imports Spike after West Coast Port Labor Accord

The National Retail Federation released data showing that import cargo volume is anticipated to rise 17 percent in March compared to the previous year, as West Coast ports work through a large backup of cargo. The surge in imports occurs weeks after the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents the management of 29 West Coast ports, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents the workers at those ports, agreed to a new long-term contract. During the negotiations, which began prior to the expiration of the previous contract on July 1, 2014, several West Coast ports experienced a significant backup in large cargo ships waiting to be unloaded.

Overall, the nation’s major container ports are expected to handle 1.52 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in March, a 16.9 percent increase over the previous year. Analysts note that this number was further inflated beyond the impact of West Coast port negotiations because the annual Lunar New Year shutdown of Chinese factories occurred later this year than usual, delaying some February Cargo into March. Forecasts for future cargo volume estimate April cargo at 1.51 million TEU (5.2 percent increase over 2014), May at 1.57 million TEU (6.1 percent increase), June at 1.57 million TEU (a 6 percent increase), and July at 1.6 million TEU (a 6.7 percent increase).

The National Retail Federation release notes a shift in cargo processing due to the negotiations and slower processing on the West Coast for the 2nd half of 2014. Overall, West Coast ports handled 55 percent of cargo in January, down from 64 percent in the same month in 2014, while East Coast ports handled 45 percent, up from 36 percent.