Imports at the nation's major container ports are projected to set a new record this month, as increasing consumer demand and rising retail sales offset the initial impact of tariffs on goods from China, according to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consultancy Hackett Associates.
The 12 U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.82 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers were available. That was up 11.6 percent from April—as the annual wave of summer merchandise began to arrive—and up 4.3 percent year-over-year, according to the report. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
June volume is estimated at 1.83 million TEU, up 6.8 percent year-over-year, July is forecast at 1.87 million TEU, up 3.8 percent, and August is forecast at 1.91 million TEU, up 4.2 percent, according to the report. The June number tied the record of 1.83 million TEU imported during a single month—set in August 2017—the forecast for July would break that record, and August would set yet another record.
Hackett Associates forecasts that trade tariffs will eventually raise prices on consumer goods and slow the nation's imports, but said that the momentum of a strong economy will delay that effect. "Retailers cannot easily or quickly change their global supply chains, so imports from China and elsewhere are expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. "As tariffs begin to hit imported consumer goods or the parts and equipment needed to produce U.S. goods, these hidden taxes will mean higher prices for Americans rather than significant changes to international trade."
"July 6 was the beginning of the United States' trade war," Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said, referring to U.S. tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese products that took effect on Friday. "There will be no winners, only losers - particularly consumers - as costs increase."
The Global Port Tracker study, which is produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., and Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., and Port Everglades, Fla., Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.