At Southern California's twin ports, there is a growing feeling that the economic tide has begun to turn, the Los Angeles Times rerpots.

Imports are down. Experts expect another year of little or no cargo growth in 2008. And other harbors are getting serious about luring business away from Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's largest seaport complex, and other West Coast ports. Competitors along the East and Gulf coasts, once content to take on whatever Los Angeles and Long Beach couldn't handle, have embarked on major expansion projects. Billions of dollars are being spent to transform the Panama Canal so that it can handle the largest ships. In Canada, a port project once viewed as little more than a safety valve for times of congestion has been elevated to a national priority.

In response to the economic stresses, A.P. Moller-Maersk Group last year pulled about 30% of the vessels that the world's biggest shipping line used to run between Asia and the U.S. West Coast, most of which had been routed through Los Angeles. There may be more to come from other companies.

"The West Coast is threatened," said Wayne R. Schmidt, an associate with British consultant Drewry Supply Chain Advisors.

Schmidt analyzed the Panama Canal expansion projects, strains on rail lines from the West Coast and confidential service contracts and concluded that more shipping lines and retailers will decide they are "better served on a cost basis at East and Gulf Coast ports."

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