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Retail imports rising ahead of expected tariff increase

Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to see unusually high levels the remainder of this spring and through the summer.

That’s according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Much of this is driven by consumer demand but retailers are likely to resume stocking up merchandise before new tariffs can take effect,” said NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold 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 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% tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods will rise to 25% on Friday, and that he plans to impose new 25% tariffs on most remaining Chinese goods at an unspecified date.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.61 million twenty-foot equivalent units in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was 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.

April was estimated at 1.76 million TEU, up 7.7 percent year-over-year. May is forecast at 1.9 million TEU, up 4.2 percent; June at 1.92 million TEU, up 3.7 percent; July at 1.96 million TEU, up 3 percent; August at 1.98 million TEU, up 4.6 percent, and September at 1.91 million, up 2 percent. Imports have never before hit the 1.9 million TEU mark earlier than July. And the August number would be the highest monthly total since the record 2 million TEU record set last October.

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.

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.
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