West Coast Imports Plunge as Tariffs Hit Consumer Goods

Date: Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Source: Wall Street Journal

Seaborne imports into the largest U.S. gateway for trans-Pacific goods plummeted last month in the latest sign of volatility in supply chains from the U.S.-China trade war.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handled 120,077 fewer loaded inbound containers in October than a year ago, a 14.1% drop, according to figures released by the neighboring Southern California ports.

The Pacific ports together handle about 37% of U.S. seaborne container import volume, and are considered a bellwether of U.S. trade, particularly with Asia.

The decline in container volume followed the U.S. implementation of a new round of tariffs in September on more China-made products, including the first large swath of consumer goods to be slapped with levies. U.S. importers, including large retailers, had rushed goods into the country ahead of earlier rounds of threatened tariffs, and logistics operators say many of their retail customers now appear to be slowing their orders abroad as they burn off inventory.

The U.S. and China are in talks over an interim trade pact that could roll back some of the tariffs covering some $360 billion worth of Chinese goods, which have been imposed in four tranches since 2018.

“Everybody had started stockpiling long before the latest round of tariff talks,” said Walter Kemmsies, managing director of the U.S. ports, airports and global infrastructure group at real-estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. “We don’t think it’s permanent, but one thing we are seeing is a shift in sourcing from China to alternative sites like Vietnam and India.”

The Global Port Tracker report issued by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates LLC showed sharp swings in trade volumes in recent months as importers have sought to get goods moving ahead of tariffs and then worked off stockpiled products. The report estimated that imports into major U.S. ports fell 5.2% in October but forecast an 8.3% year-over-year increase in November, followed by sharp declines over the subsequent three months.

“Industry planning is in a state of confusion with the on-again, off-again tariff increases and the widening of trade disputes,” Ben Hackett, principal at Hackett Associates, said in a statement.

Trade data analysis group Panjiva said consumer products including televisions, furniture and apparel were a big part of the latest decline in imports.

Panjiva said its analysis showed U.S. imports from China fell 18.9% last month while shipments from Vietnam rose 22.4% from a year ago. Panjiva estimated overall seaborne imports into the U.S. fell 8.9% in October.

 

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