NRF: Imports Stay Strong Ahead Of December Tariffs

Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to hit their highest level of the year in November just before additional tariffs take effect in December, according to the Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

New 15% tariffs on a wide range of consumer goods from China took effect at the beginning of September and are scheduled to be expanded to additional goods on December 15— covering a total of about $300 billion in imports. In addition, 25% tariffs on $250 billion worth of imports already imposed over the past year are scheduled to increase to 30% on October 15.

“This is the last chance to bring merchandise into the country before virtually everything the United States imports from China comes under tariffs,” said Jonathan Gold, vp/supply chain and customs policy with the NRF. “Retailers are doing all they can to mitigate the impact of tariffs on their customers. The effect on prices will vary by retailer and product during the holiday season, but ultimately these taxes on America businesses and consumers will result in higher prices.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.97 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 3.9% year-over-year and was the second-highest number of containers imported during any month of the year after last October’s record of 2 million. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

Numbers dipped in September as new tariffs took effect, coming in at an estimated 1.9 million TEU, up 1.6% year-over-year. October is forecast at 1.93 million, down 5.1% from last year’s record volume. November is forecast at 1.97 million TEU, which would be up 8.9% year-over-year and tie August as the second-highest number of containers in a single month. Imports are expected to fall to 1.78 million TEU in December, down 9.3% year-over-year. The decline 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.

January 2020 is forecast at 1.86 million TEU, down 1.9% from January 2019. February, traditionally the slowest month of the year because of Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia, is forecast at 1.59 million TEU, down 1.8% from February of 2019.