A group representing US apparel and footwear brands and importers is urging port management and labour groups to resume talks and conclude a contract before the current East Coast port labour contract expires.

In a letter to the International Longshoremen's Association and the United States Maritime Alliance, the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and 100 federal and state trade associations expressed concern about a recent breakdown in talks on a contract extension. The current East Coast port labour contract expires in September.

"Our associations represent a large cross section of businesses, workers and consumers who rely on and greatly benefit from global trade," the group wrote. "Until negotiations broke down, we were encouraged by the possibility that the International Longshore Association and the United States Maritime Alliance might conclude negotiations well in advance of the contract expiration in September 2018. We strongly encourage both sides to return to the table as soon as possible and resume negotiations."

Reaching a contract extension before the current contract expires will provide supply chain stakeholders with the certainty they need for their operations, the groups explain. "Supply chain disruptions arising out of previous contract negotiations are well documented. Such disruptions can have enormous adverse economic impacts."

Disruptions on the West Coast caused marked shifts in business operations that benefitted East and Gulf Coast ports. The group say much of that new business has stayed on the East and Gulf Coasts, but could just as easily shift back to West Coast gateways, where a long-term contract is in place.

"It is important to note that even the threat of a disruption can have negative economic impact on the Gulf and East Coast ports, especially if shippers and beneficial cargo owners believe that operations will be slowed or shut down during peak shipping season next fall," they wrote. "Some industries will begin implementing contingency planning as early as this spring to ensure that cargo is not disrupted during peak shipping season in the fall. In the absence of negotiations, those contingency plans will definitely affect business at East and Gulf Coast container terminals."

The groups say they believe the issues can only be resolved by negotiations in order to avoid uncertainty, shifts in logistical plans and economic damage.

Last month, US importers and exporters urged the International Longshoremen's Association to avoid a one-day East and Gulf coast port shutdown that some ILA officials had proposed to highlight state-level "government interference" in dockworker hiring.