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Retail Cargo Imports Growing Despite Threat of Tariffs

Cargo imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to grow steadily throughout the summer despite the prospect of heavy tariffs on goods from China, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“With proposed tariffs yet to be officially imposed, retailers are stocking up on merchandise that could soon cost considerably more,” Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF, said. “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.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.54 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in March, down 8.6% from February due to Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia, but just 0.7% below year-ago-levels. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

April retail cargo imports are estimated to have been 1.73 million TEU, a 6.4% increase year-over-year and May is forecast at 1.82 million TEU, up 4.3% from last year. Looking ahead, June shipments are also forecast to be 1.82 million TEU, up 6.1% year-to-year; July imports are predicted to hit 1.9 million TEU, which would be a 5.5% year-to-year gain; August imports are expected to rise 4.6% to 1.92 million TEU and September shipments are seen increasing 2.1% to 1.82 million TEU.

“Despite the threats and risks to trade, we continue to see solid expansion and our models are projecting this to continue throughout the year,” Ben Hackett, founder of consultancy Hackett Associates, said. “This is driven by a high level of confidence, as the economy remains strong and unemployment is at its lowest level in nearly two decades.”

The numbers forecast for July and August would each set new records for the number of containers imported in a single month, beating the previous high of 1.83 million TEU in August 2017. The first half of 2018 is expected to total 10.4 million TEU, an increase of 5.8% over the first half of 2017.

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.