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Rail News: Intermodal

NRF: Retail imports settling down after year of trade uncertainty

The Port of Savannah, Georgia
Photo – Port of Savannah


After a year of fluctuations driven by uncertainty over trade with China, volume at U.S. major retail container ports is expected to return to its usual seasonal patterns during the first few months of 2020, the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates reported late last week.

NRF officials will be "more confident" after President Donald Trump signs a partial trade deal with China on Jan. 15, said Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy, in a press release.

“We’ve been through a cycle of imports surging ahead of expected tariff increases — some of which got delayed, reduced or canceled — and falling off again afterward. That’s not good for retailers trying to manage their inventory levels or trying to make long-term business plans. And tariffs are never good for consumers, businesses or the economy," Gold said.

In announcing the partial trade pact with China, the administration said it would lower tariffs that took effect in September 2019 and canceled another round that was set to take effect Dec. 15, 2019. But, others remain in effect.

U.S. ports covered by the Global Port Tracker handled 1.67 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in November 2019, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 11.2 percent from October 2019 and down 7.5 percent year-over-year, NRF officials said.

While numbers for the full year are not yet final, estimates indicate that 2019 came in at 21.6 million TEUs, down 0.9 percent from 2018 but still the second-highest year on record, NRF officials said. Imports in 2018 hit a record 21.8 million TEUs, partly due to front-loading ahead of anticipated 2019 tariffs, they said.

Produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, the Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/13/2020