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A tug escorts a containership at the Port of Los Angeles, California. Photo: Robert V Schwemmer /

A tug escorts a containership at the Port of Los Angeles, California. Photo: Robert V Schwemmer /

US Container Imports Expected to Rise in First Half of 2024

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 3422
February 9, 2024

The first half of this year is projected to see an increase in inbound cargo volume at major U.S. container ports despite recent attacks on ships in the Red Sea, according to the latest Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, points out that only around 12% of U.S.-bound cargo passes through the Suez Canal. However, he notes the Red Sea situation’s global impact in terms of volatility and uncertainty.

“U.S. retailers are working to mitigate the impact of delays and increased costs. However, the longer the disruptions occur, the bigger impact this could have. More needs to be done among partners and allies to ensure the safety of vessels and crews in order to avoid yet another year of supply chain disruption,” says Gold.

Ben Hackett, Founder of Hackett Associates, says that carriers are using surplus capacity to cushion the impact of longer transit times, whether by redirecting voyages around the Cape of Good Hope or to the U.S. West Coast. He believes freight rates are starting to ease as carrier adapt their services.

“The shipping industry has rapidly adjusted by adding extra vessels to its networks, and has returned to normal weekly ship arrivals,” Hackett said. “Service from Asia to the U.S. East Coast is working well and the dramatic rise in freight rates is showing signs of easing, with pressure from shippers likely to quickly bring these down.”

In December, U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker processed 1.87 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), a slight drop (1%) from November but an 8.3% increase year over year. This brought the total for 2023 to 22.3 million TEU, a decrease of 12.8% from 2022.

The report also provided projections for the first half of 2024, estimating an increase of 5.3% from the same period last year, reaching 11.1 million TEU.

Descartes this week reported that U.S. container import volume increased 7.9% in January 2024 from December 2023, marking the largest month-over-month growth for January in the last seven years. Compared to January 2023, last month’s imports were up 9.9%, and 9.6% higher than pre-pandemic January 2019.

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