NRF: New Tariffs Could Affect Import Growth at Container Ports

Imports at the nations’ major retail container ports are expected to dip slightly this month as a result of annual Asian factory shutdowns for Lunar New Year, the National Retail Federation said.

Although the volumes this month would not be affected by the new tariffs on steel and aluminum, which were imposed on March 8, they could eventually have an impact on the ports.

“With steel and aluminum tariffs already in place, new tariffs on goods from China being threatened and the ongoing threat of NAFTA withdrawal, we could very quickly have a trade war on our hands,” Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, said.

“The immediate impact would be higher prices for American consumers that would throw away the gains of tax reform and put a roadblock in front of economic growth. But in the long term we could see a loss in cargo volume and all the jobs that depend on it, from dockworkers on down through the supply chain,” Gold added.

“A potential trade war would have a negative impact on cargo growth to the detriment of both the consumer and U.S. industry,” Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates Founder, said.

“The likelihood of an increase in exports evaporates as well, killing off any chance for an improvement in the balance of trade.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.73 million TEUs in January, up 0.2 percent from December and up 1.8 percent from a year ago. February was estimated at 1.66 million TEU, up 13.7 percent year-over-year.

March is forecast at 1.53 million TEU, down 1.8 percent from last year; April at 1.7 million TEU, up 4.7 percent; May at 1.79 million TEU, up 2.5 percent; June at 1.8 million TEU, up 4.7 percent, and July at 1.88 million TEU, up 4 percent.

The February and March numbers are skewed by variations in when Lunar New Year falls each year and Asian factories close for periods ranging from a week to a month.

The first half of 2018 is expected to total 10.2 million TEU, an increase of 4.1 percent over the first half of 2017. The total for 2017 was 20.5 million TEU, up 7.6 percent from 2016’s previous record of 19.1 million TEU.