Trans-Pacific Trade

The trans-Pacific ocean shipping market is by far North America’s largest trade lane, accounting for nearly 20 million 20-foot-equivalent container units in the U.S. trade alone in 2012.

The market is dominated by imports by large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s, which, unlike in other markets, tend to contract directly with ocean carriers rather than through forwarders, as is typically the case in the Asia-Europe market. As a result of the one-year contracts that retailers and other large shippers typically sign as of May 1 each year, freight rates in the trans-Pacific eastbound trade tend to be less volatile than in Asia-Europe.

Key developments in the trans-Pacific include the approaching 2015 expansion of the Panama Canal and its potentially huge impact on routing of Asia goods into North America, Canadian West Coast ports’ growing success in attracting U.S.-bound cargo, and West Coast ports’ expected response to these competitive challenges.

Exports moving to those markets typically are lower-value commodities such as wastepaper and scrap that keep China’s manufacturing and packaging industries humming.

News & Analysis

26 Aug 2016
Matson will build two container/roll-on, roll-off ships.
Roller coaster under cloudy skies
20 Mar 2013
The lingering economic recession in Europe will set off a cascading of vessels that will result in another year of volatile freight rates in the U.S. import trade from Asia, according to an international maritime industry analyst.
Drewry Container Rate Benchmark - spot rates through March 20, 2013. Source: Drewry's Container Freight Rate Insight.
20 Mar 2013
The continuing weakness in U.S. import demand and the specter of too much vessel capacity undermined average spot rates on the eastbound trans-Pacific this week for the fourth week in a row.
Mike Stark, president of Pacer Distribution Services.
20 Mar 2013
Mike Stark, president of Pacer Distribution Services, explains how his company uses transloading to help speed up surface shipments when there are delays in unloading cargo at ports. From the JOC’s 13th annual TPM Conference, Stark shares that several of his key customers are seeing an uptick in business in 2013.
Bryn Heimbeck, president of Trade Tech.
19 Mar 2013
Bryn Heimbeck, president of Trade Tech, explains how his company's technology allows shippers and forwarders to streamline their sales, operations and accounting processes.
18 Mar 2013
The G6 Alliance, which recently announced its expansion into the Trans-Pacific trade, has now provided details on the port rotations of the new services.


Rates in the trans-Pacific eastbound trade from Asia to North America are starting to resemble the paltry Asia-Europe and trans-Pacific westbound numbers. Within a couple weeks, we may have three-digit numbers for spot rates for 40-foot containers moving from China-based ports to Los Angeles and Long Beach. I can’t recall seeing rates this low in my 42 years in the business.


William Rooney, Kuehne + Nagel vice president, responds to questions about the current slower growth environment and the NVO ability to provide “something broader than rates” as the trans-Pacific trade evolves.
Stephane Rambaud, senior vice president at C.H. Robinson, discusses the integration of Phoenix International, which the logistics firm acquired in 2012, the company's consolidation services, and the challenges of volatility in the trans-Pacific trade.
Steven Cernak, chief executive and port director of Port Everglades, and James Hertwig, president of Florida East Coast Railway, discuss their organizations’ recent performance, their partnership in a new intermodal container transfer facility, and the opportunities they see and projects they are pursuing for further growth.