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US container imports leave the pandemic behind

Port of Tacoma A large container vessel being moved in port by tugs, with a snow-covered mounting in the far distance
US container import volumes continued to track closely with 2019 levels in May 2023, falling well below inflated 2021 and 2022 volumes.

According to a report from Descartes, May 2023 US container imports were 2.1m teu, up 3.8% on April 2023 volumes. The figure was 20% lower than May 2022, but 0.5% above May 2019; 2023 volumes have so far tracked 2019 levels within a 1.3% margin for January through May.

Among the top 10 US container ports, Tacoma had the largest proportional on-month increase in imports, up 33.3%, while in teu terms, LA had the largest increase, up 56,226 teu on-month.

Across the top 10 ports, imports were up 68,742 overall compared to April 2023, although only half of the ports recorded an increase in volumes. Long Beach, Savannah and Houston all recorded drops of around 6,000 teu, there was a 1,100 teu drop at Charleston and a 4,900 teu drop at Baltimore.

The five largest West Coast ports took 41.5% of US imports, while the top East Coast and Gulf Coast ports took 42.8%, an increase of 1.8% for West Coast ports and drop of 1.2% for the East and Gulf Coasts.

Port transit times increased across all of the top 10 US ports in May, compared to April, reaching figures similar to those seen at the end of 2022, said Descartes.

The company further warned that the return of Asia-origin container to the West Coast ports could be delayed by the ongoing negotiations with unions, and the actions by workers that are impacting container processing.

China continued to account for over a third of US container imports in May, with 780,684 teu, up 5.1% on month. The figure represented 37.2% of US box imports coming from China, up 0.4% from April 2023.

China topped the list of container origins and the had the largest increase in imports on-month, followed by Vietnam. Imports from Japan slipped 14.3% due to the Golden Week holiday in early May.

TAGS: Ports Americas