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NRF: Import growth to slow in first half

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Congestion at U.S. seaports expected to ease

WASHINGTON – Congestion at retail container ports is expected to ease in the first half of 2022 as import growth slows, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.NRF

“We’re not going to see the dramatic growth in imports we saw this time last year, but the fact that volumes aren’t falling is a clear sign of continued consumer demand,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Last year set a new bar for imports, and the numbers remain high as consumers continue to spend despite COVID-19 and inflation. The slowdown in cargo growth will be welcome as the supply chain continues to try to adapt to these elevated volumes. Unfortunately, many experts expect ongoing disruptions throughout 2022 for a variety of reasons.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker are projected to handle 13 million TEU in the six months through June. That would represent an increase of 1.5% from the volume of imports that moved through the ports in the first half of 2021. A TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.

Ports on the East and West coasts remain congested, said Ben Hackett of Hackett Associates, who noted that the Port of Los Angeles has around 40 ships waiting to dock. As more ships arrive each day and delays mean some cargo won’t get unloaded until the following month, shifts in import patterns could be difficult to follow for the next few months, he said.

“With Lunar New Year factory closings in Asia this month and the consequent drop in export production, North American terminals will have an opportunity to reduce existing congestion,” Hackett said. “Nonetheless, backups cannot be erased quickly as long as terminals continue to face a lack of space brought on by the supply chain’s inability to efficiently transfer cargo out of the terminals to its end destinations. A shortage of equipment, worker availability and storage space at distribution centers and warehouses across the country remains problematic, as does the export of empty containers back to Asia.”

The ports handled 2.09 million TEU in December, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 1.2% from November. Imports for all of 2021 totaled 25.8 million TEU, a 17.4% increase over 2020’s record high of 22 million TEU.

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast. The report is free to NRF retail members.


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