Retail imports surging again ahead of more tariffs

Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports reached unusually high numbers before new tariffs on goods from China took effect on September 1 and are expected to surge again before another round of tariffs takes effect in December.

That’s according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. New 15% tariffs on a wide range of consumer goods from China took effect at the beginning of this month and are scheduled to be expanded to additional goods on December 15 – covering a total of about $300 billion in imports. In addition, 25% tariffs on $250 billion worth of imports already imposed over the past year will increase to 30% on October 1.

“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,” stated NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “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.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.96 million twenty-foot equivalent units in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 9.1% from June and up 2.9% year-over-year. (A TEU is one 20-ft.-long cargo container or its equivalent.)

Numbers were high again in August, which was estimated at 1.93 million TEU, up 1.8% year-over-year. September is forecast at 1.85 million, down 0.7% from last year; October at 1.92 million TEU, down 5.5%; November at 1.97 million TEU, up 8.8%, and December at 1.77 million TEU, down 9.8%.

Likely driven by the new tariffs scheduled for December, November’s 1.97 million TEU would be the highest monthly total since the record 2 million TEU seen in October 2018.

The first half of 2019 totaled 10.5 million TEU, up 2.1% over the first half of 2018, and 2019 is expected to see a new record of 21.9 million TEU. That would be up 0.7% from last year’s previous record of 21.8 million TEU, which rose 6.2% over 2017.

January 2020 is forecast at 1.81 million TEU, down 4.5% from January 2019.

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.