It’s not easy to be in the green while being green. That’s one of the lessons emerging from The Journal of Commerce Top 100 Importers and Exporters rankings for 2012.

It’s been seven years since Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club put forth their corporate objective to reduce packaging across supply chains by 5 percent by 2013, and their subsequent metrics for supplier scorecards — the so-called Packing 7 R’s: Remove, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Renew, Revenue and Read — have trickled down into best practices and brought significant rewards across the industry for cargo interests.

When goods are densely packaged safely, transportation savings accrue in fewer container counts, lower drayage units, lower per-unit freight costs, and more goods in less space in warehousing and distribution centers and on the store shelves.

For ocean carriers, the downside may be more cargo in fewer containers with lower vessel capacity utilization rates.

So, is it accurate to compare container cargo liftings growth over the last several years without considering such stowage and packaging factors?

On a volume basis, containerized U.S. imports increased 2.6 percent year-over-year and were 2.3 percent ahead of pre-recession 2008. In contrast, U.S. exports in 2012 inched ahead just 0.4 percent year-over-year, but were 5.7 percent above 2008. While the export trade is leading in cargo growth, the liftings lack the velocity to achieve President Obama goals under the National Export Initiative, which aims to double U.S. exports in the five years through 2014.

Debuting in the importer rankings at No. 83 with 15,100 TEUs is First Solar. Its portfolio includes energy solutions such as a low-cost alternative to retail electric costs through nonsubsidized solar electric modules that have a proprietary semiconductor technology that is seen to have worldwide rural applications.

Special Coverage

Part of JOC's Top 100 Importers rankings
Top 100 importers in 2012: U.S. foreign trade via ocean container transport.

News & Analysis

A Home Depot fulfillment center
07 Mar 2014
It begins with a leaky faucet, or perhaps a broken piece of crown molding, or a washing machine, or ceiling fan. Something needs to be fixed, replaced, improved or installed — and the right tools are required to do it. That specific need generates the demand that sets the supply chain in motion at The Home Depot, and increasingly that demand first appears as an online order placed through the retailer’s website.
 Thomas Lorenzo, import ocean logistics manager, Lowe’s, speaking at the JOC’s TPM conference on March 5.
06 Mar 2014
The home-improvement retailer Lowe’s is reducing its equipment costs and avoiding the chassis shortages that are plaguing cargo interests at a number of U.S. ports by leasing a dedicated fleet of chassis in its South Atlantic operations.
Wal-Mart produce
24 Jul 2013
Wal-Mart executives want people to know they are increasing the food safety requirements of their suppliers, are working to verify the safety of imported foods and increasing standards in foreign stores as well.
17 Jun 2013
U.S. containerized exports could exceed imports during certain months as soon as 2016 and on an annual basis by 2020, Walter Kemmsies, chief economist at Moffatt & Nichol, told the annual meeting of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition.
Containers being lifted.
10 Jun 2013
U.S. containerized imports registered their lowest growth rate since the 2008-09 recession ended, increasing just 1.5 percent to 17.1 million 20-foot-equivalent units last year, according to the JOC’s quarterly Container Shipping Outlook.
29 May 2013
After years of consumer retrenchment, especially on big-ticket purchases, the improving U.S. housing market is fueling demand for household appliances such as dishwashers, refrigerators, air conditioners, ovens, stoves and washing machines.

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Commentary

It’s a growing phenomenon that all importers must beware: What federal agencies regulating trade once considered strictly mistakes warranting no more than a civil penalty have become criminal violations.