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NRF: Retail Imports Remain Strong Despite Tariffs

Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to remain at near-record levels in October despite a new round of tariffs that took effect in September, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Retailers are continuing to import merchandise in order to meet consumer demand even though tariffs are now in place on roughly half the goods imported from China and the trade war is still escalating,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vp/supply chain and customs policy. “Retailers are doing their best to mitigate the impact on their customers, but they are not able to quickly or easily change their sourcing. That means these tariffs will eventually mean higher prices for American consumers.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.89 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 0.6% from July but up 3.4% year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

September was estimated at 1.84 million TEU, up 2.7% year-over-year. October is forecast at 1.87 million TEU, up 4.3%; November at 1.8 million TEU, up 2.3%, and December at 1.79 million TEU, up 4%. January 2019 is forecast at 1.77 million TEU, up 0.7% over January 2018, and February is forecast at 1.63 million TEU, down 3.5% year-over-year.

Until this year, the record for the number of containers imported during a single month was 1.83 million TEU, set in August 2017. But that record was broken this June, when 1.85 million TEU were imported, and again in July, with 1.9 million TEU. October will be the fifth month in a row to top last year’s peak.

The first half of 2018 totaled 10.3 million TEU, an increase of 5.1% over the first half of 2017. The total for 2018 is expected to reach 21.4 million TEU, an increase of 4.4% over last year’s record 20.5 million TEU.