Port of Oakland: coronavirus could dampen trade growth

Oakland International Container Terminal, Alameda County, California, USA.

The Port of Oakland’s January 2020 results lift hopes for a recovery from the US-China trade war but questions remain over the impact of the coronavirus on trade growth.  

The Port has reported a 7.3% increase in containerized import volume for January 2020, compared with the same month in 2019.

When asked would concern over the fast-spreading coronavirus dampen trade growth, Port of Oakland Maritime Director, John Driscoll, said “It’s possible”.

He added, “The uptick in January was encouraging but we’re hearing from shipping lines that cargo volume could moderate over the next few months.”

Oakland’s year-over-year import volume increase in January 2020 followed three straight months of decline, the Port said.  Exports rose 3.3% in January, up for the fourth straight month. 

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The Port said consumer demand – both in the US and Asia – spurred cargo volume increases.

The Port’s results followed a January trade agreement signaling a break in the US tariff battle with China.

The agreement included a commitment by Beijing to increase purchases of US farm goods.

That was good news for California and Midwest agricultural exporters who use Oakland’s port as their gateway to Asia, the Port noted.  But the coronavirus outbreak that initiated in China blurs the trade outlook.

Quarantines and other emergency measures have slowed Chinese manufacturing output, according to reports.  As a result, shipping lines are canceling some springtime voyages to the US.

The Port said it could take several months to determine the impact of the contagion on global supply chains.

The Port reported that its total January cargo volume – including imports, exports and empty container repositioning – declined 0.6%.  It said that it handled 17.7% fewer empties in January than in the same period last year.

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