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Imports Building Toward August Peak as One Labor Dispute Ends But Others Develop

Imports Building Toward August Peak as One Labor Dispute Ends But Others Develop

July 11, 2023
The port strike affecting Vancouver and Prince Rupert shouldn’t have a major impact here but could affect some U.S. retailers whose merchandise comes in through Canada.

Import cargo volume at the nation's major container ports is expected to climb toward an August peak this summer, according to the Global Port Tracker. The report was t released on July 7 by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

But even though a tentative contract agreement has been reached at West Coast ports, retailers are closely following labor disputes at ports in western Canada and a potential Teamsters strike against United Parcel Service.

“We were relieved that labor and management at West Coast ports reached a tentative agreement last month but that doesn’t mean supply chain disruptions are over,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said, in a statement

 “The port strike affecting Vancouver and Prince Rupert shouldn’t have a major impact here but could affect some U.S. retailers whose merchandise comes in through Canada and could have a potential ripple effect at other ports," Gold added. "Meanwhile, the ability to move goods from U.S. ports to stores could be impacted if UPS and the Teamsters don’t resolve their differences before their contract expires at the end of the month. We urge all parties in both negotiations to get back to the table and continue efforts to reach a final deal without engaging in disruptive activity. Seamless supply chains are critical for retailers as we head into the peak shipping season for the winter holidays."

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett noted that first-quarter gross domestic product growth was revised upward to 2%, consumer demand is stable, and consumers have continued to spend while retailers and wholesalers have reduced their inventories. “These numbers together point toward another quarter of economic growth, which should confirm that the prospect of a recession is looking less likely,” he said. U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.93 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in May, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 8.5% from April but down 19.3% year over year

Ports have not yet reported June numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.86 million TEU, down 17.5% year over year. That would bring the first half of 2023 to 10.6 million TEU, down 22% from the first half of 2022.

July is forecast at 1.94 million TEU, down 11% year over year,

The forecast for other months is as follows:

  • August is forecast at 2.03 million TEU, down 10.1% year over year but the first month since last October to reach 2 million TEU.
  • September is forecast at 1.96 million TEU, down 3.4%
  • October at 1.97 million TEU, down 1.8%
  • November at 1.88 million TEU, up 5.9% for the first year-over-year increase since June 2022

Global Port Tracker has not yet forecast the full year, but the third quarter is expected to total 5.9 million TEU, down 8.3% from last year, and the first nine months of the year should total 16.5 million TEU, down 17.6% year over year.

Imports for all of 2022 totaled 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.

Canada’s Vancouver and Prince Rupert aren’t included in those totals and not all of their cargo comes to the United States, but the two ports handled over 185,000 TEU in May. That accounted for approximately 9% of combined U.S.-Canadian container imports at ports covered by the full Global Port Tracker report.

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