Citing ongoing labor negotiations and other factors, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka projected a “significant volume decline” in February after a soft month of January at a briefing Thursday.

The port moved 726,000 twenty-foot equivalent units in January, a 16% drop from last year. Imports declined by 13% compared to last January, and exports were up by 2.5% but was 22% off the five-year average.

Talks involving employers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents at least 20,000 port workers on the West Coast, have been ongoing since their contract expired last summer. That has led to traders turning to ports on the East Coast.

Seroka said a deal “may not get done in February or March,” but was optimistic of seeing progress in negotiations in the spring. He said that there has been no disruption in production due to the negotiations, though he was sensitive to trepidation.

“There are many transportation managers that yet couldn’t go back to their boss for a third straight year and say, `I’ve got our cargo stuck in the jaws of congestion out in California,”’ Seroka said. “To meet the criticism, to meet the conjecture that’s put out there, we’ve got to get this collective bargaining agreement done and remove that from the discussion.”

Seroka also cited impacts from Lunar New Year, high interest rates and full warehouses locally as reasons for the decline in cargo volume.

He said the shift in cargo to the East Coast has been ongoing for the past two decades, with the West Coast’s share of trans=Pacific trade declining since 2002 and federal investment prioritizing states along the East and Gulf coasts.

“Money is going to both battleground and red states,” Seroka said. “It’s not coming to where the cargo flows.”

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