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Cargo Imports Rise as Retailers Stock Up to Stay Ahead of More Tariffs

Cargo imports at major U.S. retail container ports are expected to continue to increase this summer as retailers look to get ahead of higher tariffs on Chinese imports, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Friday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“With a major tariff increase already announced and the possibility that tariffs could be imposed on nearly all goods and inputs from China, retailers are continuing to stock up while they can to protect their customers as much as possible against the price increases that will follow,” Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy a NRF, said.

The Trump administration increased 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent in May, with the hike applying to imports that arrive in the U.S. after June 15. The administration has also proposed implementing new 25 percent tariffs on an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, and it recently removed India and Turkey from the Generalized System of Preferences program, which allows certain items to be imported duty-free.

In addition, the administration announced a 5 percent escalating tariff on all imports from Mexico, but those goods travel by truck or train and don’t effect cargo numbers at U.S. seaports.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.75 million 20-foot equivalent units in April, an 8.4 percent increase over March and up 6.9 percent year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

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May cargo imports were estimated to have risen 3 percent year-over-year to 1.88 million TEU. June container shipments are forecast to be up 0.3 percent to 1.86 million TEU, while July deliveries are seen rising 1.1 percent to 0.93 million TEU and August shipments are expected to be up 3.3 percent to 1.95 million TEU.

Looking down the road, cargo imports are forecast to increase 0.9 percent in September to 1.89 million, while falling 4.4 percent in October to 1.95 million TEU. The August and October numbers would be the highest monthly totals since the 2 million TEU record set last October as retailers rushed to bring merchandise into the country ahead of a previous round of expected tariff increases.

Cargo 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. The first half of 2019 is expected to total 10.6 million TEU, up 3 percent over the first half of 2018.

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.