Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports reached unusually high numbers just before new tariffs on goods from China took effect September 1 and are expected to surge again before another round of tariffs takes effect in December, according to a recent report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“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,” says Jonathn Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “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. The upcoming October talks with China are an opportunity to put a stop to this escalation, repeal the tariffs that have been imposed and focus on growing the economy.”
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.
“The tariff war with China closely resembles a poker game, with each country continually upping the ante,” Hackett Associates' founder Ben Hackett says. “As each side eyes its hand, things can only get worse.”
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.
Numbers were high again in August, which was estimated at 1.93 million TEU, up 1.8% year-over-year. For the rest of the year the forecast is as follows:
• 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 %.
• 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 billion 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.