Skip to main content

Cargo Import Fluctuations Seen as Tariff Threats Impact Supply Chain

Cargo imports at U.S. retail container ports are expected to see high levels the rest of this spring and through the summer, mostly driven by strength in retail sales in the midst of a threatened increase in and broadening of tariffs on goods from China, the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Thursday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates said.

“Much of this is driven by consumer demand, but retailers are likely to resume stocking up merchandise before new tariffs can take effect,” Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF, said. “Tariff increases and new tariffs will mean higher costs for U.S. businesses, higher prices for American consumers and lost jobs for many American workers. We encourage the administration to stay focused on a trade agreement and we hope the negotiations will get back on track.”

The rush to bring merchandise into the country that was seen through much of last year slowed down after President Trump postponed a tariff hike from January to March and then put it on hold indefinitely as trade talks with China showed signs of progress. But Trump said this week that 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods will rise to 25 percent on Friday, and that he plans to impose new 25 percent tariffs on most remaining Chinese goods at an unspecified date.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.61 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) in March, down 0.6 percent from February, but up 4.4 percent year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

Related Stories

April cargo imports were estimated at 1.76 million TEU, up 7.7 percent year-over-year. The forecast for May is for an increase of 4.2 percent to 1.9 million TEU, while the outlook for June is for a gain of 3.7 percent to 1.92 million TEU. Cargo imports are seen rising 3 percent in July to 1.96 million TEU, as August shipments are forecast to be up 4.6 percent to 1.98 million TEU and September’s imports are seen rising 2 percent to 1.91 million TEU.

The report noted that cargo imports have never hit the 1.9 million TEU mark earlier than July and the August number would be the highest monthly total since the 2 million TEU record set last October.

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 10.7 million TEU, up 3.9 percent over the first half of 2018.

“Consumption is facing the potential of increased tariffs on Chinese imports if President Trump’s tweets are anything to go by,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said.

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.