CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
July 23, 2019
Forward Thinking

Retail imports rising under threat of higher tariffs, report says

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The nation's major retail container ports are preparing for unusually high levels of imports this spring and throughout the summer, NRF's latest Global Port Tracker shows.

Imports at the nation's major retail container ports are expected to rise throughout the spring and summer in response to the Trump Administration's threats to increase and broaden tariffs on Chinese goods, according to the most recent monthly Global Port Tracker report, released today.

The latest forecast estimates that major U.S. ports will handle 1.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) this month, a level that has never been seen before July, according to the report. It also forecasts record import volume in August.

"Much of this is driven by consumer demand, but retailers are likely to resume stocking up merchandise before new tariffs can take effect," said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, which produces the Global Port Tracker in conjunction with research and consulting firm Hackett Associates.

President Trump said this week that he will increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent this Friday and that he plans to impose new 25 percent tariffs on additional Chinese goods at an unspecified date.

The expected increase in imports follows last year's rush to bring merchandise into the country ahead of a tariff hike planned for January. The President postponed that increase until March and then put it on hold indefinitely as trade talks with China progressed. This week he said those talks are progressing too slowly.

In the meantime, imports continue to rise. U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.61 million TEUs in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 0.6 percent from February but up 4.4 percent year-over-year.  April was estimated at 1.76 million TEU, up 7.7 percent year-over-year. May is forecast at 1.9 million TEU, up 4.2 percent; June at 1.92 million TEU, up 3.7 percent; July at 1.96 million TEU, up 3 percent; August at 1.98 million TEU, up 4.6 percent; and September at 1.91 million, up 2 percent.

Imports during 2018 set a record of 21.8 million TEU, an increase of 6.2 percent over 2017's previous record of 20.5 million TEU, according to NRF's report. The first half of 2019 is expected to total 10.7 million TEU, up 3.9 percent over the first half of 2018.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker include the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami, and Jacksonville on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

Oakland imports up 7% in April

Officials at the Port of Oakland reported a strong April on Thursday, but also expressed concerns of the looming tariff hike. Containerized import volume in Oakland jumped 7 percent during the month, marking the busiest April in the port's 92-year history. Import totals have increased in three of the first four months of 2019, port officials said.

"We entered this year with uncertainty over the trade outlook, so we're gratified by the solid performance of import cargo," Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll said in a statement announcing the results. "At the same time, all of us involved in global trade are concerned about what comes next."

A tariff hike could dampen import demand while also prompting retaliatory levies on U.S. exports, officials added.

Oakland import volume has increased 5.8 percent through the first four months of 2019, due primarily to continued strong U.S. consumer demand, port officials said. Oakland's total cargo volume-imports, exports, and empty containers-is up 4.6 percent, so far this year.

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