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Imports at many important container ports around the United States have slowed from pre-holiday peak but remain at unusually high as importers continue to bring in containers before tariffs are set to increase in January, these figures are due corresponding to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released on Nov. 9 by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates and reviewed by A1 Worldwide Logistics.

“Imports have usually dropped off significantly by this time of year, but we still see numbers that could have set records in the past,” NRF vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said.

“Part of this is driven by consumer demand in the strong economy, but retailers also know that tariffs on the latest round of goods are set to more than double in just a few weeks. If there are shipments that can be moved up, it makes sense to do that before the price goes up.”

October logistic throughput was estimated at 1.89 million TEU, up 5.5% YOY. November numbers are forecast at 1.81 million TEU, up 2.9%, and December at 1.78 million TEU, up 3.7%. Jan 2019 is forecast at 1.81 million TEU, up 2.8% over Jan 2018; Feb at 1.8 million TEU, up 0.5% YOY, and March at 1.58 million TEU, up 3.2 %.

Import brokers set a monthly record of just over 1.8 million TEU in July ahead of 10% tariffs on $200 billion in goods from China that took effect in September and are scheduled to rise to 25% in January as Trump’s aggressive tariffs take effect.

“President Trump’s trade war with China and the threat of even higher tariffs in 2019 have created a mini-boom in imports and businesses have rushed to bring goods into the country ahead of the tariffs,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “We are clearly in a politically motivated trade environment.”

While logistics numbers do not relate precisely with sales, the imports mirror 2018’s strong retail market. NRF recently forecasted that total 2018 holiday season retail sales are expected to increase 4.3 % and 4.8% over last year. Retail sales for all of 2018 are forecast to be up at least 4.5% over 2017.

The rate to ship an ocean container from China to the U.S. is now roughly twice as high as it was this time last year, shipping analysts said, as demand is picking up. “Capacity is insufficient,” said Philip Damas, director of Drewry Supply Chain Advisors Ltd. “Importers are not very happy because they’re struggling to get their cargoes moved in time [and] the prices are twice what they usually are.”

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