Imports at the nation's 12 major container ports are expected to grow steadily through the rest of spring and summer despite the prospect of heavy tariffs imposed on goods from China, according to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" report released yesterday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consultancy Hackett Associates.
The ports handled 1.54 million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) boxes in March, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 8.6 percent from February because of Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia during March, but down only 0.7 percent year over year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
April was estimated at 1.73 million TEU, up 6.4 percent year over year. May is forecast at 1.82 million TEU, up 4.3 percent from last year. June is also forecast at 1.82 million TEU, up 6.1 percent. Looking to the summer, July is projected at 1.9 million TEU, up 5.5 percent; August at 1.92 million TEU, up 4.6 percent; and September at 1.82 million TEU, up 2.1 percent.
The July and August numbers, if they come to fruition, would each set new records for the number of containers imported in a month, beating the previous high of 1.83 million TEU in August 2017, according to the report.
The first half of 2018 is expected to total 10.4 million TEU, an increase of 5.8 percent over the first half of 2017, according to the report. The 2017 total was a record 20.5 million TEU, up 7.6 percent from 2016's previous record of 19.1 million TEU.
In a statement, Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said the strong near-term numbers may be affected by retailers stocking up before the imposition of threatened tariffs drives up the costs of merchandise. In late March, the Trump administration said it would place a 25-percent tariff on more than 1,300 imported goods from China as a way to penalize China for its trade practices.
The Chinese products that have been targeted, for the most part, represent higher-value items like flat-screen televisions, medical devices, aircraft parts, and batteries. The list mostly de-emphasized lower-value goods like apparel and footwear that Americans buy every day and that NRF feared would be included.
Gold affirmed NRF's concerns about the impact of the administration's actions, given China's prominence as a source of goods that are consumed by Americans. "If tariffs do take effect, there's no quick or easy way to switch where these products come from. American families will simply be stuck paying higher prices, and hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs could be lost."
Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, and Tacoma, Wash., on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., Port Everglades, Miami, and Jacksonville, Fla., on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.