Container imports remain at pre-pandemic levels Ship’s crew

Logistics software provider Descartes Systems Group has released its April Global Shipping Report showing a significant increase in US container import volume in March 2023 compared to February 2023, keeping the monthly trendline aligned to pre-pandemic volume in 2019.

According to data collected by Descartes’ global trading software Descartes Datamyne, US container import volume increased by 6.9% to 1,853,705 TEU in March 2023 compared to February 2023, mainly due to increases in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Descartes said he should keep in mind that the 31 days in March versus 28 in February and with the Chinese New Year holidays in January 2023 in early March 2023 could still have some impact on container import volumes.

Although TEU volume in March fell by 27.5% compared to the same month last year, it increased by 4.2% compared to March 2019 before the pandemic.

Despite the general increase, Descartes’ report shows that port transit delays have recently stabilized for all ports. Meanwhile, the labor situation on the west coast still poses a risk to port operations.

Photo credit: Descartes

“The volume of container imports in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach declined, but in March they saw a significant increase. 2023 continues to track 2019 volume,” said Chris Jones, EVP Industry and Services at Descartes. “It was also pleasing that the port transit delay times remained constant despite the significant volume increases.”

The report also highlighted that imports from China continue their downward trend. In March 2023, Chinese imports fell 7.4% to 586,129 TEU – down 41.6% from the August 2022 high. China accounted for 31.6% of total US container imports in March, down 4 .9% from February and 9.9% from the February 2022 peak of 41.5%.

In addition, West Coast ports have grown at the expense of smaller ports. The fact that the labor situation has still not changed poses an ongoing risk to West Coast port operations. However, the leading West Coast ports increased their market share of imports to 43% in March, up 7.0% % compared to February. In total container import volume, the major ports on the East and Gulf Coasts slightly increased their market share to 47.4%, up 0.9% compared to February.

Descartes also released his 2023 US Ports Report, which provides a more in-depth examination of import and export data for 2022, a year-on-year comparison of monthly TEUs, top carriers and consignees, and top countries of origin at each port.

Key findings from the report showed that US imports in 2022 neither marked a return to traditional trading patterns nor met early expectations for year-on-year growth, falling -3.42% from 2021. While only six of the top 30 US ports saw throughput declines in 2021, 12 ports recorded fewer TEUs year-on-year in 2022 (mainly a consequence of the supply chain crisis). All West Coast ports saw year-over-year volume declines with the exception of two: Portland, Oregon, and Port Hueneme, California.

The port report also showed that for much of 2022, there were port transit delays of more than 10 days, but by January this year the situation was improving, mainly due to reduced volumes and improved container handling in major ports.

The Port of Los Angeles remained the country’s busiest port for container imports last year, despite an overall 14% year-over-year decline in imported volumes. Meanwhile, the Port of New York and New Jersey overtook the Port of Long Beach to become the second-biggest port for container imports, with a 3.8% increase in TEU, reflecting changing trade patterns.

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