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Retail container ports could see congestion ahead, says report

WASHINGTON, D.C.The U.S. National Retail Federation and Global Insight have released a February Port Tracker report that says the major U.S. retail ports are operating without congestion, but that they could face challenges ahead.

“Looking ahead to the coming 2006 peak season, we see continued challenges to system performance due to continued growth in trade that will start again within the next two months,” said Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham in a release.

“As we must every year, we can expect some shocks to the system. However, their nature and timing is unknown just as the 2005 natural disasters and fuel price spikes couldn’t be predicted. There will also continue to be rail capacity constraints and trucking concerns. But with quick decision-making and rapid mitigation steps, we hope the industry will be able to repeat the overall success we saw in 2005 and keep any terminal or network congestion to a minimum,” he said.

“Being able to detect the unexpected and respond accordingly is one of the reasons we launched Port Tracker,” said NRF Vice President and International Trade Counsel Erik Autor.

“We don’t yet know what we will face in 2006, but Port Tracker is an important tool providing retailers with the most up-to-date information to help keep their supply chains free of disruptions.”

All ports covered by the report Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma and Seattle on the West Coast, and New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast are currently rated “low” for congestion, the same as in the January Port Tracker report. A low rating means “business as usual” with no serious congestion, delays or diversion of cargo anticipated.

The current six-month outlook is for slower growth at West Coast ports than during the same months in 2005. Market share gains that were seen in Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma are not likely to continue at the same pace, the report suggest.

The many new high-capacity vessels being added to transpacific services may also affect all-water routes through the Panama and Suez canals. On the East Coast, growth at the ports of New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah has been driven in part by new regional distribution centers built for Asian imports that will not revert to West Coast ports. For railroads serving ports, the few lingering hurricane impacts on the national rail system are being cleared. Despite continued high diesel fuel prices, port trucking is operating smoothly.

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