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US Cargo Imports Increase but Potential Trade War Threatens Outlook

Cargo imports at major retail container ports in the U.S. are expected to grow 5.8% year-over-year in April, but they could be threatened down the road if the developing trade war between the U.S. and China continues to escalate.

“If tariffs ultimately lead to a reduction in imports and exports, that will put dockworkers and countless others in the supply chain out of work, Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF, said in the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Friday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. “American consumers and workers should not be punished for China’s wrongdoing.”

In recent weeks, the U.S. and China have threatened to impose hundreds of billion of dollars in tariffs on each other’s imports based on what the Trump administration sees as unfair trade practices by China.

Ports covered by the Global Port Tracker handled 1.69 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in February, down 4.1% from January, but up 15.8% from a year ago. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent. The Global Port Tracker noted that the year-over-year numbers are skewed due to fluctuations in when Lunar New Year factory shutdowns occurred in Asia. This year’s holiday and closures began in mid February, while last year’s started at the end of January.

March cargo shipments were estimated at 1.54 million TEU, down 1.2% percent year-over-year, while April is forecast at 1.72 million TEU, a 5.8% percent from last year. May shipments are forecast at 1.82 million TEU, which would be a 4.1% gain; June is predicted to be at 1.83 million TEU, a 6.5% rise; July is expected to increase 4.5% to 1.88 million TEU and August cargo imports are seen rising 3.9% to 1.9 million TEU.

The first half of 2018 is expected to total 10.4 million TEU, an increase of 5.6% over the first half of 2017. The total for 2017 was 20.5 million TEU, up 7.6% from 2016’s previous record of 19.1 million TEU.

The 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.