US imported record number of shipping containers in April, Chinese ports still clogged

Published on
May 16, 2022
U.S. ports are processing a record number of shipping containers this spring.

U.S. ports are processing a record number of shipping containers this spring.

U.S. ports covered by the National Retail Federation’s and Hacket Associates’ Global Port Tracker handled 2.34 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in March, up 10.8 percent from February and a 3.2 percent year-over-year increase, NRF said in a press release.

U.S. imports topped the previous monthly TEU record of 2.33 million set in May 2021. It was the highest number of containers imported into the U.S. a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002.

Retailers are importing more merchandise to beat inflation and to prepare for potential disruptions due to U.S. West Coast port labor negations, which started this week, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said.

“NRF has previously encouraged the parties to remain at the table and not engage in disruptions if a new contract is not reached by the time the current agreement expires 1 July,” Gold said.

Retailers are importing record amounts of merchandise to meet consumer demand, “but they also have an incentive to stock up before inflation can drive costs higher,” Gold said.

“Whether it’s freight costs or the wholesale cost of merchandise, money retailers save is money that can be used to hold down prices for their customers during a time of inflation," he said.

However, CNN reported U.S. importers are concerned about future supply chain problems, as shipment delays between China and major U.S. and European ports have quadrupled since late March, when China shut down Shanghai due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, according to data from Project44.

Some Chinese cities, including Shanghai, have started easing COVID-19 restrictions in recent days, but it will be difficult for Chinese ports to recover from the delays already incurred, according to Shelley Simpson, chief commercial officer for JB Hunt Transport Services.

"[Things may get] a lot worse this summer because of what's happening in China," Simpson told CNN. "[It] just takes a little bit of disruption to really change the environment all over again."

Combined with supply-chain pressure caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the situation could result in continued inflation, CNN reported.

Global Port Tracker projects that June U.S. imports will total 2.29 million TEU, up 6.6 percent from last year. It projects U.S. imports will reach 2.31 million TEU in July, up 5.3 percent, and 2.29 million TEU, up 0.9 percent.

Photo courtesy of Roman Babakin/Shutterstock

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