Impact of trade war is apparent in U.S. import trends, reports Port Tracker

Tariff activity and trade tension between the United States and China continue to dominate import activity, according to the most recent edition of the Port Tracker Report, which was issued today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates.

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Tariff activity and trade tension between the United States and China continue to dominate import activity, according to the most recent edition of the Port Tracker Report, which was issued today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates.

The ports surveyed in the report include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Houston, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah, Miami, Jacksonville, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Port Everglades.

Authors of the report explained that cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them, adding that the amount of merchandise imported provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations.

“Retailers are still trying to minimize the impact of the trade war on consumers by bringing in as much merchandise as they can before each new round of tariffs takes effect and drives up prices,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “That’s the same pattern we’ve seen over the past year, but we’re very quickly going to be at the point where virtually all consumer goods will be subject to these taxes on American families. The upcoming October talks with China are an opportunity to put a stop to this escalation, repeal the tariffs that have been imposed and focus on growing the economy.”

The report pointed to how new 15% tariffs on various consumer goods went into effect in early September and are set to expand to additional goods, effective December 15, which will cover roughly $300 billion in imports. What’s more, it added that 25% tariffs on $250 billion worth of imports that have taken effect over the last year will rise to 30% on October 1.

U.S. ports covered in the report handled 1.96 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in July, the most recent month for which data is available, marking a 9.1% increase over June and a 2.9% annual gain.  

Port Tracker said that August is pegged to hit 1.93 million TEU (a 1.8% annual increase), with September projected to reach 1.85 million TEU (a 0.7% annual decrease). October is expected to be down 5.5% to 1.92 million TEU. November is forecasted to be up 8.8% to 1.97 million TEU, with December, at 1.77 million TEU, off 9.8%. With tariffs set to take effect in December, Port Tracker said that should November’s 1.97 million TEU estimate come to fruition it would represent the highest monthly tally going back to October 2018’s 2 million TEU.

The report observed that even though imports will be down annually for most months over the balance of 2019, it is attributed to high volumes from 2018, due to retailers importing more in advance of scheduled tariff hikes and, in turn, making annual comparisons challenging.

According to Port Tracker, the first half of 2019 came in at 10.5 million TEU, for 2.1% annual gain, with 2019 forecasted to hit 21.9 million TEU, which would be up 0.7% over 2018’s 21.8 million TEU and set a new record.  2018 was up 6.2% compared to 2018, which the report’s authors previously said was unusually high.

“The Trump administration has bet its economic strategy on the ongoing trade war, which is being fought aggressively with tariffs and sanctions while targeting friends and foes alike,” wrote Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett in the report. “The net result has been the creation of uncertainty and anxiety, which many economists say are leading the global economy into a potential recession. We are witnessing tit-for-tat tariff increases between the United States and China, and increasingly the European Union with threats against the automobile industry. The tariff war with China closely resembles a poker game with each country continually upping the ante, and this confusing US policy is leading global growth rates downward.”  

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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