Retailers Still Stocking Up Ahead of Possible Tariffs

file photo courtesy of the Port of Oakland
file photo courtesy of the Port of Oakland

By The Maritime Executive 07-11-2019 07:13:46

Imports at the U.S.’s major retail container ports will remain at high levels this summer but are expected to grow modestly compared with last year’s rush to bring merchandise into the country ahead of scheduled tariff increases, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

President Donald Trump announced after meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping last month that he would hold off on tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese goods while negotiations between the two countries resume. Coupled with tariffs imposed over the past year, the new round would tax almost all goods the U.S. imports from China.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.85 million TEUs in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up six percent from April and up 1.4 percent year-over-year. 

June was estimated at 1.87 million TEUs, up 0.8 percent year-over-year. July is forecast at 1.93 million TEUs, up 1.3 percent; August at 1.96 million TEUs, up 3.4 percent; September at 1.89 million TEUs, up 1.1 percent; October at 1.94 million TEUs, down 4.5 percent, and November at 1.88 million TEUs, up 4.3 percent.

The August number would equal the total seen last December just ahead of a scheduled January 1 tariff increase that was ultimately delayed until this spring, and would be second only to the two million TEUs record set last October. But the small year-over-year increases expected in the next few months compare with double-digit growth in multiple months last year as retailers rushed to import Chinese merchandise ahead of expected tariff increases.

Imports during 2018 set a record of 21.8 million TEUs, an increase of 6.2 percent over 2017’s previous record of 20.5 million TEUs. The first half of 2019 totaled an estimated 10.6 million TEUs, up 2.8 percent over the first half of 2018.

“Retailers still want to protect their customers against potential price increases that would come with any additional tariffs, but with the latest proposed tariffs on hold for now and warehouses bulging, there’s only so much they can do,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “We will still see some near-record numbers this summer, but right now no one knows whether there will be additional tariffs or not. We hope the restarted negotiations with China will result in significant reforms rather than more tariffs that tax American companies and consumers.”

Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville and Houston.