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Retail Cargo Imports to Hit Record Numbers Amid Tariff Debate

Cargo imports at the major U.S. retail container ports are projected to set record volumes this summer and fall, even as a trade war looms, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Consumers are buying more and that means retailers are importing more,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation. “Imports continue to be the primary source of high-quality, mass-produced necessities at affordable prices and will be for the foreseeable future. If tariffs are imposed on consumer goods, that will only drive up prices for American families while doing little or nothing to punish those responsible for unfair trade practices.”

The U.S. has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from a range of trading partners, including Canada, Mexico and the European Union, and is set to impose punitive tariffs on a host of goods from China if the two countries can’t work out deal to lower the trade deficit between the U.S. and China. The trading partners have promised to hit the U.S. with retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods that could include apparel, textiles and footwear.

“Despite an environment where the U.S. administration is enacting measures that could well lead to a trade war with most of its Asian and European trading partners, we see imports continuing to grow,” Ben Hackett, founder of consulting firm Hackett Associates, said.

He noted that manufacturers have seen increased orders that reflect solid consumer demand. But textile and apparel imports from China fell more than 10 percent in April, possibly due to concern over higher tariffs.

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Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.63 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in April, a 5.8% decline from March, but a 0.3% year-over-year increase. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

May cargo imports were estimated at 1.77 million TEU, up 1.3% year-over-year, while June is forecast at 1.78 million TEU, which would be a 3.75% gain over last year. Looking into the summer and fall, July cargo imports are forecast to rise 4.1% to 1.88 million TEU, August shipments are seen growing 4 percent to 1.91 million TEU, September imports are expected to increase 2.3% to 1.83 million TEU and October shipments are seen rising 5.7% to 1.9 million TEU.

The numbers forecast for July, August and October would each beat the previous record of 1.83 million TEU imported during a single month, which was set in August 2017, Global Port Tracker noted. The first half of 2018 is projected to come in at 10.2 million TEU, which would be a 3.8% increase 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.