The body representing US retailers and importers has warned of "devastating implications" for the retail industry if the breakdown in contract talks earlier this week leads to a coast-wide port shutdown.

Contract negotiations between the International Longshoremen's Association and the United States Maritime Alliance broke down on Tuesday (18 December), leading to fears of widespread work stoppages at 15 container ports along the East and Gulf coasts from 30 December.

"It is imperative that both sides verbally announce their intentions to return to the negotiations," said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation (NRF).

"A coast-wide port shutdown would have a significant impact across all businesses and industries that rely on the ports, particularly retail.

"The last thing the economy needs right now is another strike, which would impact all international trade and commerce at the nation's East and Gulf Coast container ports. This is truly a 'container cliff' in the making."

The group is again calling on President Obama to get involved in the negotiations to eliminate the threat of a strike or lockout.

The NRF warns that a port strike or lockout "would impact every importer and exporter who relies these ports to move their commerce."

For retailers, this means shipments of spring and summer merchandise, such as shoes and swimwear could be affected.