Los Angeles’ empties exports soar amid rising trade disparities

Empty containers continue to be Port of Los Angeles' biggest export

The Port of Los Angeles’ highest export commodity continues to be empty containers which saw an increase of 20.4% in July 2021, amid an increasing need to improve the US trade imbalance. 

In a media briefing, Gene Seroka, Executive Director at the Port of Los Angeles, said the ratio of empty containers against exports is running at 3:1 in a sign that the US consumer’s buying strength remains uninterrupted as the Port “repositions its empty containers back to Asia”.

Trade in empty containers has increased as exports from China and the rest of Asia has risen substantially. This has led to allegations of carriers breaking contracts with US exporters to meet demand from Chinese companies.

This phenomenon, according to Seroka, “has inspired many of us to work on a national export policy”, in line with the government’s supply chain national strategy.

The deficit between imports and exports continues to widen. The Port imported 469,361 loaded TEU, a YoY increase of 2.9%, and Seroka said retailers are switching from back-to-school goods and Autumn fashion to Winter-related products.

Looking ahead, Seroka cited the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) prediction that August will be the business month on record for US imports.

As for exports, the Port saw a decrease of 27.6% year-on-year (YoY) and only handled 91,440, the lowest since February 2005; the ration between imports and exports is 5:1, the widest gap on record.

Seroka said the US consumer’s buying strength remains in full force as demand for containerised goods continues to cause YoY increases in traffic at the Port of Los Angeles, where overall volume rose by 4% in July 2021.

The gateway moved 890,800 TEU to mark exactly 12 months of consecutive growth. Seroka described the latest figures as “a great indicator” of how sustained the unprecedented buying surge has been.

The Port received 79 vessels in July 2021 compared to 88 in 2020, and Seroka said while it was welcoming fewer ships, cargo is still rising. He explained that this is due to “bigger ships and better utilisation”, saying that the Port is averaging an exchange of 11,000 TEU per vessel call.

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