LA and Long Beach Post Record Annual Volumes

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Published Jan 17, 2019 12:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach both posted their highest container volumes ever in 2018, with growth driven by importers' concerns over a looming trade war. 

The Port of LA handled 9.5 million TEU in 2018, setting a new record for the third year in a row. The increase can be attributed in part to international politics: about half the port's trade is with China, and due to the Trump administration's threat to increase tariffs on Chinese goods, many importers accelerated their activity in order to stockpile China-sourced products. 

"This is a rush of cargo based on political trade policy," said Port of LA director Gene Seroka, speaking to VOA. "Many people were fearful that we were going to go from a 10 percent tariff on certain items to 25 percent on January 1."

The distribution of peak cargo volumes correlated with the timeline of the trade dispute. Last month, the port processed more than 900,000 TEUs, the busiest December in the port’s 111-year history and a 16 percent jump year-over-year. It was the sixth consecutive month of volumes exceeding 800,000 TEUs.

This pattern has played out at multiple container ports across the U.S., according to National Retail Federation VP Jonathan Gold. NRF estimates that America's largest ports handled a total of 21.6 million TEU last year, an increase of 5 percent over 2017, due to importers' desire to stock up. "Retailers have . . . brought in much of their spring merchandise early to protect consumers against higher prices that will eventually come with tariffs," said Gold. 

However, that rush could mean less business for ports in 2019, according to NRF research partner Hackett Associates. "We are projecting declining volumes in the coming months and an overall weakness in imports for the first half of the year," said founder Ben Hackett in a statement.