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Cargo Imports Remain at Record Levels Despite Latest Round of Tariffs

Despite a new round of tariffs that took effect in September, cargo imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to remain at record levels this month, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“Retailers are continuing to import merchandise in order to meet consumer demand even though tariffs are now in place on roughly half the goods imported from China and the trade war is still escalating,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF. “Retailers are doing their best to mitigate the impact on their customers, but they are not able to quickly or easily change their sourcing. That means these tariffs will eventually mean higher prices for American consumers.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.89 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) in August, a 0.6% decline from July, but up 3.4% year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

September shipments were estimated at 1.84 million TEU, a 2.7% year-over-year increase. October imports are forecast to rise 4.3%, to 1.87 million TEU, while ports are projected to handle 2.3% more goods, to reach 1.8 million TEU, and December’s numbers should rise 4 percent, to 1.79 million TEU, according to the report.

Until this year, the record for the number of containers imported during a single month was 1.83 million TEU, set in August 2017, according to the Global Port Tracker. But that record was broken this June, when 1.85 million TEU were imported, and in July, with 1.9 million TEU. October will be the fifth month in a row to top last year’s peak.

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The total for 2018 is expected to reach 21.4 million TEU, an increase of 4.4% over last year’s record 20.5 million TEU. Heading into the new year, cargo imports are forecast to be up 0.7% in January, to 1.77 million TEU from a year earlier, and ports are expected to handle 1.63 million TEU in February, which would be a 3.5% falloff year-over-year.

While cargo numbers do not correlate directly with sales, the imports mirror this year’s strong retail sales, the report noted. NRF forecast last week that 2018 holiday season retail sales, excluding automobiles, restaurants and gasoline stations, will increase between 4.3% and 4.8% over last year.

Global Port Tracker 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, Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.