Imports at the U.S.’s major retail container ports are expected to see their final surge of the year this month ahead of new tariffs set to take effect in December, according to the Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
President Trump announced tentative agreement on a partial trade deal with China last month, but officials are still working on the details and have not announced a date or location for the measure to be signed. An October tariff increase was canceled and news reports this week indicate that some tariffs could be removed, but there has been no word on a new round of tariffs on consumer goods currently scheduled to take effect December 15.
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.87 million TEUs in September, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 0.2 percent year-over-year but was down 4.7 percent from August, when imports saw their second-highest level on record, 1.97 million TEUs, ahead of tariffs that took effect September 1.
October was estimated at 1.93 million TEUs, down 5.2 percent from last year’s record 2 million TEUs. November is forecast at 1.96 million TEUs, up 8.3 percent year-over-year and tying last December and this July for the third-highest number of containers in a single month. But imports are expected to fall to 1.78 million TEUs in December, down 9.2 percent from near-record numbers last year ahead of scheduled tariffs that were later postponed. The expected drop from November will come as December’s tariffs take effect, but the month historically sees a falloff in imports because most holiday merchandise has already arrived by that point.
The first half of 2019 totaled 10.5 million TEUs, up 2.1 percent over the first half of 2018, and 2019 is expected to see a new annual record of 22 million TEUs. That would be up 1 percent from last year’s previous record of 21.8 million TEUs.