Port of Oakland cargo volume up in trade war, but can it last?
Import frontload could go on through yearend, experts say; 2019 unclear
Oakland, Calif. – Nov. 9, 2018: A U.S.-China tit-for-tat over tariffs hasn’t dampened cargo volume growth at the Port of Oakland. In fact, the Port is on track for its third straight year of record container volume in 2018.
But can it last? That’s the question supply chain experts pondered this week at the quarterly meeting of the Port’s Efficiency Task Force. Forty trade and transportation executives ranging from longshore labor representatives to cargo owners gathered to discuss trade dynamics. Their consensus: cargo volume is spiking right now but could drop by January.
“We’re peaking,” said a major U.S. West Coast freight forwarder, “but it may not go on much longer.”
Here were the trends noted by Task Force members assembled in Oakland:
- Warehouses are filling up as U.S. retailers import merchandise from Asia.
- Shipping lines have added more than 30 extra voyages to regularly scheduled Transpacific services to transport larger container volumes.
- Ports up and down the West Coast have reported unprecedented cargo volume growth since mid-summer.
Reasons for the cargo spike vary, according to shipping experts. It could be the result of a continued strong U.S. economy. This is also peak season when importers order heavily for holiday merchandising.
A third explanation loomed large for Oakland’s Efficiency Task Force – frontloading. Experts said that shippers have accelerated orders to beat the imposition of new tariffs on Chinese imports.
“Imports are a good story, but the reason for the growth is still something of a mystery,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll. “We suspect frontloading is part of the answer.”
More than one official predicted declining January imports as new U.S.-imposed tariffs take effect. Others said import volume should keep climbing until then.
Oakland said its import volume is up 2.7 percent over 2017 which was a record year for containerized cargo at the Port. Imports from China have increased 5 percent this year, the port said, despite the tariff skirmish.
Oakland exports to China have declined 33 percent in 2018, the Port said. It attributed the decline to tough new Chinese restrictions on wastepaper shipments, an Oakland export staple.
As Oakland's China exports decline, other Asian nations are picking up the slack, the Port said. Export shipments to Vietnam soared 96 percent in September, the Port said. Exports to Taiwan increased 37 percent.
The Port expects to release October cargo volume results next week.
About the Port of Oakland
The Port of Oakland oversees the Oakland Seaport, Oakland International Airport, and nearly 20 miles of waterfront including Jack London Square. The Port's 5-year strategic plan - Growth with Care - pairs business expansion with community benefits, envisioning more jobs and economic stimulus as the Port grows. Together with its business partners, the Port supports more than 73,000 jobs in the region and nearly 827,000 jobs across the United States. Connect with the Port of Oakland and Oakland International Airport through Facebook, or with the Port on Twitter, YouTube, and at www.portofoakland.com.
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