International News - US dock strike threatens retailers

Gap and other fashion retailers face the prospect of empty shelves unless the US Pacific Coast dock strike is resolved quickly.

Analysts at Wall Street broker Bear Stearns have warned that shortages of stock due by sea from Asia are jeopardising retailers' trade. The interruption to supplies follows union action and an employer lock-out, which has paralysed West Coast ports.

President Bush was scheduled to present a petition to the District Court in San Francisco on Tuesday, which could force union members to work an 80-day cooling-off period.

But Bear Stearns analyst Dana Telsey said the situation could become extremely serious if it is not resolved quickly. The West Coast ports handle US$300 billion (£200.6 billion) of goods a year - half the total shipping cargo to and from the US.

Gap imports 50 per cent of its product through the West Coast ports, with the remainder imported by air or via the East Coast. Telsey said management is reviewing which products will be subject to most delays.

Fashion retailer The Limited had originally assumed that goods would be delayed by up to 10 days. However, Ann Taylor management had foreseen the shutdown and managed to ship product in early.

Hundreds of ships were stranded 'on the water' as Retail Week went to press.