Imports set another record high this spring as the nation’s major container ports worked to reduce congestion and retailers stocked up before dockworkers’ West Coast labor contract expired, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.
“Cargo volume is expected to remain high as we head into the peak shipping season, and it is essential that all ports continue to operate with minimal disruption,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy. “Supply chain challenges will continue throughout the remainder of the year, and it is particularly important that labor and management at West Coast ports remain at the bargaining table and reach an agreement.”
- The contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association expired July 1, but cargo operations are continuing.
- Ports saw a surge in activity this spring as a slowdown in cargo from Chinese factories closed by COVID-19 gave them a chance to clear built-up congestion. Retailers bringing in seasonal merchandise and importing other goods early to avoid any problems related to the contract negotiations may have also contributed to volume.
- U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.4 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in May, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 6% from April and up 2.7% year over year. It also set a new record for the number of containers imported in a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002, topping 2.34 million TEU this March.
“Congestion of ships waiting to berth on the West Coast has eased, and we expect to see the same on the East Coast as carriers begin to return to their normal patterns of port calls,” says Hackett Associates founder. “After a short period of decline, freight rates are on the rise again as congestion in Europe and idle vessels there take capacity out of circulation.”