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L.A., Long Beach Ports Move to Ease Anticipated Cargo Crush

CALIFORNIA

April 26, 2000|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Officials at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have begun working in tandem to encourage importers and marine terminal operators to alleviate the coming July-to-November cargo crush as back-to-school, Halloween and Christmas merchandise dominates the transpacific shipping trade.

Hal Hilliard, marketing manager for the Port of Long Beach, said officials of both ports met Tuesday with a logistics coordinator from Target Corp. to stress, among other issues, the importance of shipping early this year and keeping warehouse facilities open longer to help avoid cargo delays that plagued last year's peak shipping season.

Hilliard said similar meetings have been planned with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kmart Corp., Home Depot Inc. and other major retailing importers.

Tuesday's meeting with Target came as local economists released a report predicting that foreign trade measured in the value of goods passing through the Los Angeles Customs District--the nation's busiest--would jump by nearly 9% this year.

Like the ports, many in the local import/export community have begun preparing on their own to help manage the coming cargo onslaught. Many fear that shipping delays longer than the three- to four-day logjams experienced last year could result if steps aren't taken to secure more short-haul truck drivers and to expand hours at local marine terminals and distribution warehouses.

According to a report released Tuesday by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., the value of two-way trade through the local customs district--which in addition to the region's primary air and seaports also includes McCarran Airport in Las Vegas--is expected top $214 billion by year's end, matching 1999's 8.6% surge over the previous year.

Cargo container volume, which has already hit record highs this year during what is considered the off-peak shipping season, is expected to spike even higher at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles this summer. Last year, buoyed by a strong U.S. economy and rebounding economies in Asia, the two facilities together took in more than 8 million 20-foot cargo containers, placing them third behind Singapore and Hong Kong as the world's busiest port complex.

Port officials have also encouraged local terminal operators to extend hours at their facilities to allow truckers more time to move containers off the docks and clear cargo gluts.

Hilliard said dockside operations at both ports have indicated a willingness to stay open longer "depending on the container traffic." Officials at the Southern California Steamship Assn., which represents local marine terminals, could not be reached for comment.

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