Despite Tariffs, Imports Are Hitting Record Levels

New tariffs on nearly half the goods imported from China haven’t dampened retailers’ zeal for bringing in merchandise from overseas factories.

Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are hitting their stride and are expected to surpass record levels notched last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report issued 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, the NRF’s vice president for 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.”

Last month, the Trump administration imposed an additional 10 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of goods being brought into the U.S. from China. Those tariffs could increase to 25 percent at the beginning of the year, and the government is threatening to add another $267 billion on Chinese-made products.

“The third round of tariffs is now in place, an increase in the level of tariffs is coming, and further tariffs have been threatened,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which prepares the annual report for the NRF.

Still, the ports are busy. Cargo arriving at the major U.S. ports in August totaled 1.89 million 20-foot containers, up 3.4 percent over last year. September imports are expected to rise 2.7 percent to 1.84 million containers, and October will see a 4.3 percent jump with a forecasted 1.87 million containers.

November and December are also predicted to see brisk import numbers. Cargo arrivals should be up 2.3 percent in November, to 1.8 million containers, and December will see a healthy 4.0 percent uptick to 1.79 million containers.

The first half of 2018 saw cargo-container traffic up 5.1 percent over the first half of 2017, totaling 10.3 million containers, while import cargo volume for all of 2018 is predicted to increase 4.4 percent over last year to a record 20.5 million containers.

While most ports were experiencing aggressive import activity, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in August saw a slight dip in their imported cargo-container volumes. The Port of Los Angeles experienced a 2.75 percent decline over last year, and the Port of Long Beach saw a 3.6 percent drop in imported cargo-container traffic.