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Despite sequestration, U.S. cargo volume to increase 2.3% in March

By Ricardo Lopez

12:29 PM PDT, March 11, 2013

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Cargo volume at the nation's ports is expected increase in March, despite port slowdowns as a result of automatic federal budget cuts, according to a retail group. 

A monthly Global Port Tracker released Monday by the National Retail Federation predicted that March cargo volume would increase to 1.27 million 20-foot equivalents, or TEUs. That's up 2.3% from the same month last year.

April cargo volume is expected to increase 3.5% to 1.35 million TEUs.

The automatic spending cuts, also known as sequestration, began kicking in on March 1. Port and Homeland Security officials have warned of slowdowns in port operations as customs agents face furloughs.

Customs officials are responsible for vessel inspections at the nation's seaports.

"Retailers are aware of the impact of the cuts on customs operations at the ports and are working to plan accordingly so the impact on merchandise headed for the store shelves is minimized," said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation.

The Global Port Tracker, which is produced for the retailing trade group by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, includes the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and New York.

"At the port level, there may well be a slowdown in customs clearance but trade will continue to flow," said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. "It may cause terminal congestion if the backlog builds up, and that needs to be planned for in advance.”

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ricardo.lopez2@latimes.com