US container imports had a record-breaking year in 2018 but could still feel the pressure of the trade war with China, according to BIMCO, the world’s largest shipping agency.
Container imports on both the US East Coast (USEC) and West Coast (USWC) grew 3.7% and 8% respectively in the first 11 months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.
Record high levels of inbound laden containers were handled on both coasts in October with the USWC processing 1.09 million TEU and USEC 0.91 million TEU.
The USEC, in particular, experienced significant volatility at the start of 2018, as its laden imports increased by 11.7% in January compared to the same time in 2017, but then fell back to around 4%, where it remained for the majority of the year.
BIMCO's Peter Sand recently wrote a Port Technology technical paper on the trade war's impact on the dry bulk sector
This rapid growth in the first quarter is, according to BIMCO, an annual feature of the USWC’s calendar due to the rush of trade brought on by Chinese New Year.
AS well as both coasts enjoying import booms, several individual ports also handled record numbers of TEU in the month of October, in particular the USEC.
The Ports of New York-New Jersey (339,602 TEU), Savannah (205,836 TEU), Virginia (125,404) and Charleston (98, 947 TEU) all set volume record in October.
In a statement, Peter Sand, Chief Shipping Analyst, BIMCO credited the October bounce in TEU to “improving port infrastructure and connections” and “frontloading ahead of the then expected increase in tariffs on Chinese goods from 1 January 2019”.
BIMCO also said the frontloading seen at the end of 2018 is unlikely at continue into 2019 due to the uncertainty over US-China trade talks. If talks fail, new tariffs could be introduced as early as March.