Import growth slowed in July but export volumes remained strong at the nation's top two container ports.

Containerized exports at the Port of Long Beach increased 19 percent in July over the same month last year, and exports were up 10 percent at the neighboring Port of Los Angeles, according to statistics released by the two ports.However, on the import side container volume declined 0.2 percent in Los Angeles and increased 6 percent in Long Beach. Both ports had been enjoying double-digit growth in both imports and exports for much of the past year.

It appears imports from Asia destined for store shelves this coming Christmas season are moving later than usual, said Brian Conrad, managing director of the Asia North America Eastbound Rate Agreement, the conference of lines that set rates together in the eastbound trans-Pacific.

"It depends who you talk to, but the general gut feeling is that there is a bit of a slowdown in imports so far," Mr. Conrad said.

Nevertheless, Long Beach, the nation's busiest containerport, and Los Angeles, the second busiest, both anticipate an increase in containerized imports this fall. "We expect a strong Christmas season," said Don Wylie, director of trade and maritime services at the Port of Long Beach. "Overall, we're projecting another year of double-digit growth," he said.

Al Fierstine, director of marketing at the Port of Los Angeles, said the continued strong growth in exports and the anticipated increase in imports this fall could produce double-digit growth in Los Angeles as well.

Commenting on the July figures, Mr. Fierstine said that American President Lines, one of the port's largest tenant, called at Long Beach Container Terminal last month with its new vessel APL China. LBCT is the terminal operator in Long Beach for Orient Overseas Container Line, which has a vessel- sharing arrangement with APL.

The APL China is the first of that carrier's new 5,000-TEU class containerships. APL will introduce six of these vessels, and OOCL will phase in five vessels, each with a capacity of 5,000 20-foot containers, over the coming year. As the vessel-sharing partners finalize their schedules, Los Angeles anticipates some of the big new ships will be calling at the APL terminal there. However, until the ships do start calling in Los Angeles, "it will definitely be impacting our bottom line," Mr. Fierstine said.

With each port having moved more than 1.5 million TEUs so far this year, they are both well on their way to registering record container volumes this year.