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US protectionist measures backfire with deteriorating container imbalance


EMPTY container moves at US ports jumped to a record high in 2018, as the imbalance of US container imports over exports deteriorated despite the introduction of protectionist trade policies by the Trump administration.

According to Alphaliner's survey of the 10 largest container ports in the US, total laden imports grew by 6.2 per cent last year to reach 20.66 million TEU while total laden exports rose by just 2.1 per cent to 11.06 million TEU.

The total number of empty containers handled at these ports increased to a record 10.89 million TEU, increasing by 5.6 per cent in 2018 with the incidence of empty container handling reaching an all-time high of 25.6 per cent.

The imbalance was especially pronounced in the second half of last year at a ratio of more than 2:1, despite the imposition of various import tariffs by the US during 2018, Alphaliner data shows.

Rather than curb imports, the tariffs have had the opposite effect as importers front loaded cargo in anticipation of higher tariffs that were supposed to be imposed on Chinese imports, while demand for US containerised exports remained largely stagnant.

The planned increase in imports tariffs from 10 per cent to 25 per cent on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports, originally scheduled to be imposed from January 1 2019, have been delayed twice, including the latest postponement announced on February 25 that pre-empted the revised implementation date of March 1.

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