Smooth Sailing: U.S. Port Congestion Clears

Cargo volume high ahead of peak shipping season

By Alan Wolf, YSN

The container port logjams that had once left vendors and retailers clamoring for inventory have finally cleared.

According to the latest monthly Global Port Tracker report, congestion of ships waiting to berth on the West Coast has eased, and the same is expected on the East Coast as carriers begin to return to their normal patterns of port calls.

The report, produced by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and research consultancy Hackett Associates, evaluates and monitors key port data including container import volume, vessel services, congestion, gate operations and new transportation-related projects.

The researchers attribute the newly open lanes to a slowdown in cargo from Chinese factories that were closed this past spring by a renewed COVID outbreak. Retailers bringing in seasonal merchandise and importing other goods early to avoid potential delays related to expiring dockworker contracts may have also contributed to the clearing.

Those contracts expired on July 1, but cargo operations have been unimpeded so far. NRF and more than 150 groups including the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) have asked the Biden administration to work with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association to avoid disruption.

“It is particularly important that labor and management at West Coast ports remain at the bargaining table and reach an agreement,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy. But barring any labor-related actions, “Cargo volume is expected to remain high as we head into the peak shipping season,” he said.

Related: Box Stores Left Holding the Bag

Indeed, forecasts for July point to a 5.3% increase in container imports, to 2.31 million 20-foot cargo containers or their equivalent, which would represent the fourth-busiest month on record.

That’s a far cry from last fall, when port delays contributed to a pileup of more than 60 container ships off the Southern California coast, waiting to unload furniture, appliances and other cargo at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

See: California Ports Remain a Supply Chain Chokepoint