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Descartes: Container Imports Continue to Track at Pre-Pandemic Levels

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 1741
April 11, 2023

Logistics software provider Descartes Systems Group has released its April Global Shipping Report, revealing a significant increase in U.S. container import volumes in March 2023 compared to February 2023, keeping the monthly trend-line aligned with pre-pandemic 2019 volumes.

According to the data collected by Descartes’ global trade software Descartes Datamyne, the March 2023 U.S. container import volumes increased by 6.9% from February 2023 to 1,853,705 TEUs, mainly driven by gains at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Descartes said to keep in mind that March 31 days versus 28 for February and, with the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday occurring in January 2023, there still could be some impact on container import volumes in early March 2023.

Although March TEU volume was down 27.5% from the same month last year, it was up 4.2% from pre-pandemic March 2019.

Despite overall increases, the Descartes’ report shows that port transit delays for all ports had stabilized latest. Meanwhile, the West Coast labor situation still poses a risk to port operations.

Credit: Descartes

“Container import volumes at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been in decline, but in March they experienced significant increases. 2023 continues to track 2019 volumes,” said Chris Jones, EVP Industry and Services at Descartes. “There was also good news in that the port transit delay times remained constant despite the significant volume increases.”

The report also highlighted that imports from China continue their downward trend. In March 2023, Chinese imports declined with a decrease of 7.4% to 586,129 TEUs—down 41.6% from the August 2022 high. China represented 31.6% of the total U.S. container imports in March, a decline of 4.9% from February and 9.9% from the high of 41.5% in February 2022.

Moreover, West Coast ports made strong gains at the expense of smaller ports. The fact that there is still no change in the labor situation presents continued risk to West Coast port operations. However, top West Coast ports increased their market share of imports to 43% in March, up 7.0% versus February. Of the total import container volume, top East and Gulf Coast ports increased market share slightly to 47.4%, up 0.9% compared to February.

Descartes also released its 2023 U.S. Ports Report, providing a deeper examination of import and export data for 2022, YoY comparison of monthly TEUs, top carriers and consignees, and top countries of origin at each port.

Key findings in the report showed that 2022 U.S. imports didn’t mark a return to traditional trade patterns, nor did they meet early expectations of YoY growth, declining -3.42% vs. 2021. While only six of the Top 30 U.S. ports saw declines in throughput in 2021, 12 ports posted fewer TEUs YoY in 2022 (mainly a result of the supply chain crunch). All West Coast ports posted YoY declines in volume, with two exceptions: Portland, Oregon and Port Hueneme, California.

The ports report also showed that for much of 2022, port transit delays were coming in at 10+ days, but by January of this year the situation improved, mainly due to reduced volumes and improved container processing at major ports.

The Port of Los Angeles remained the busiest port in the country for container imports last year despite an overall 14% year over year drop in imported volumes. Meanwhile, the Port of New York and New Jersey surpassed the Port of Long Beach to become the second busiest port for container imports, with a 3.8% gain in TEUs reflecting shifting trade patterns.

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