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.
SCFI container spot rates through March 8, 2013. Source: Shanghai Shipping Exchange.
08 Mar 2013
The Shanghai Containerized Freight Index continued its decline in the week of March 8 across all trade lanes, with European lanes dropping below the $1,000 per 20-foot container mark, according to data issued by the Shanghai Shipping Exchange.
TPM 2013 was held in Long Beach, California.
08 Mar 2013
The Twitter feed from TPM 2013 was on fire through the three-day conference. Here are just some of our favorites.
World Container Index Rates from Rotterdam and Los Angeles to Shanghai, as of March 7, 2013.
07 Mar 2013
Backhaul east-west container rates were up this week in the Europe-to-Asia and trans-Pacific westbound lanes, according to the latest release of the World Container Index.
chassis at Maher Terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey
07 Mar 2013
Container lines owned half of U.S. intermodal chassis in 2009, but their share fell to 32 percent last year and will drop to 20 percent by the end of 2013, consultant Steve Rubin told the JOC’s 13th annual TPM Conference.
Customs import inspector
07 Mar 2013
Government regulatory agencies are seeking the support of importers in their attempts to secure the nation’s borders while at the same time facilitating the clearance of legitimate cargo.


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.