Report: Despite Federal Government Cuts, April Retail Import Cargos Still Rise

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container shipWashington—Import cargo volumes at major U.S. retail container ports are expected to rise 2.7% in April, helped by customs officials saying they are working to minimize the impact of federal spending cuts on cargo processing.

The year-on-year rise is being forecast by the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“The impact of sequestration isn’t yet fully known, but customs officials are working hard to manage their resources and keep cargo moving,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

“Between their efforts to avoid delays and retailers’ adjustments to compensate, we’re not expecting consumers to see any difference on store shelves at this point. We are working closely with customs to ensure that that remains the case.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) told businesses last week that federal “sequestration” cuts that took effect in March could still have a “serious impact” on the agency, including increased wait times for customs inspections at ports.

Sequestration: Not Hurting, Not Helping So Far

But officials said recent passage of the fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill by Congress “allows CPB to mitigate to some degree the impacts.” Staff absences and cuts in overtime that were previously expected have not been cancelled but have been put on hold.

U.S. ports handled 1.29 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in February, which is historically the slowest month of the year. The number was down 2.5% from January but up 17.5% from February 2012. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

March was estimated at 1.28 million TEU, up 2.6% from a year ago. April is forecast at 1.35 million TEU, up 2.7% from last year; May at 1.42 million TEU, up 3.2%; June at 1.42 million TEU, up 1.8%; July at 1.45 million TEU, up 1.5%, and August at 1.44 million TEU, up 0.25% from last year.

The first six months of 2013 are expected to total 8.1 million TEU, up 4.7% from the first half of 2012. The total for 2012 was 15.9 million TEU, up 3.4% from 2011.

“Economic indicators continue to present a mixed picture of the prospects for the remainder of the year,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. “Sequestration does not help but on the other hand is not yet a major factor to take into account.”