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.

Special Coverage

Unless something changes dramatically, container lines risk a repeat of the brutal 2015 to 2016 contracting season; deepening industry losses are set to approach $10 billion this year alone.

News & Analysis

09 Nov 2016
US importers of containerized goods from Asia should expect to pay more for their 2016-2017 contracts and be prepared to say goodbye to giveaways, such as free detention and chassis, said the head of a discussion group of container lines on Wednesday.
World Container Index Rates from Rotterdam and Los Angeles to Shanghai, as of March 21, 2013.
22 Mar 2013
Backhaul eastbound Europe-to-Asia rates dropped by 1.1 percent this week while trans-Pacific westbound lanes remained steady for a third week, according to the latest release of the World Container Index.
21 Mar 2013
Singapore-based ocean carrier APL plans to increase rates on all containers moving from India to Canada and the U.S., excluding Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, starting April 1.
21 Mar 2013
The port of Yokohama saw its container trade with foreign countries decline 2.6 percent in 2012 from a year earlier to 2,731,231 twenty-foot-equivalent units, according to preliminary figures released by the Yokohama municipal government.
21 Mar 2013
Japan’s exports to the United States rose for the second straight month in February on a year-on-year basis, increasing 5.7 percent to $10.60 billion, according to preliminary figures released by the Finance Ministry on Thursday.
Port of Tacoma: Containerized Imports and Exports Through February 2013. Source: Port of Tacoma.
21 Mar 2013
The Port of Tacoma’s containerized throughput soared by 59.2 percent year-over-year in February, according to data from the port.


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.