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The Ports Authority yesterday reported cargo shipments up 5 percent in 2003 over the previous year. Last year's shipping reached 35 million tons, and container shipments were up 6 percent in 2003 to 1.5 million TEUs (standard sized container).

The authority figures show 2003 export shipments of 13.5 million tons, up 7 percent from 2002. Imports were unchanged at 18.5 million tons. Trans-shipment of goods to other destinations via Israel reached 3 million tons, up from 2.2 million the year before.

Amos Ron, the CEO of the Ports Authority, said the authority forecasts cargo shipments will rise another 5 percent this year, based on the assumption that the economy will recover from the recession.

He said if structural changes are introduced in the ports, separating them and making them competitive, each of the three - Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat - will file next year's reports independently.

Haifa was the leading port with 54 percent of last year's traffic - 18.8 million tons. Ashdod moved 14.1 million tons (40 percent) and Eilat with 2.1 million tons moved 6 percent of the cargo. Traffic in Haifa rose 10 percent for 2003. Ashdod fell back 5 percent - this is the main entry port for general cargo like metals, lumber and other goods for manufacturing.

In Eilat, traffic was up sharply by 29 percent, mainly attributed to a 50 percent rise in potash exports.