LOAD CENTER PUT-DOWN

GOOD FOR GAO WIJIE, president of the China Ocean Shipping Corp. He told a meeting of Pacific Rim port officials in Vancouver, British Columbia, that he doesn't believe West Coast container traffic will be channeled through a ''load center" to the detriment of all other ports.

Load center has been an overworked label almost from the birth of oceanborne containerization. Yes, there did seem to be a certain plausibility about it. But ever-larger containerships with awesome container-ton-mile figures at sea, calling at fewer and fewer ports, bring some problems of their own. Mr. Gao correctly points out that "different shipping companies with different trades will choose different ports."To be sure, in its effect on ports, intermodal container traffic has not been the equivalent of the tide that raises all ships. But on coasts in the main flow of such traffic, our impression is that it has developed more, not fewer, active and diversified and specialized ports.

Moreover, well-managed ports are not inclined to surrender their function to some load center up or down the coast. They know what shippers and carriers need, and what the individual port can deliver. They know what incentives they can offer to attract those different ship lines with special needs that Mr. Gao mentioned. And they have a stubborn prejudice in favor of life.

This year has brought more than a full share of turbulence in waterfront labor relations, most of it related to the negotiation of new contracts for the International Longshoremen's Association at Atlantic and Gulf ports. We only can repeat our belief that the ILA's best hope for long-term healthy employment lies in efficiency and productivity, not make-work rules. Ocean trade always seeks out the gateways offering the best combination of price and service.

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