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

U.S. container trade with Asian countries increased in the 12 months ending March 31, 2016, according to data from PIERS, a sister product of within IHS.

News & Analysis

14 Apr 2017
Carriers in most cases have kept the rate on the West Coast that they charge their largest customers above $1,000 per feu container.
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.
07 Mar 2013
Harbor truckers urged the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to do more to make Southern California the gateway of choice for shippers and carriers, and the top item on their wish list is to reduce congestion at marine terminal gates.
06 Mar 2013
The volatile U.S. refrigerated freight trade will make a comeback in 2013 after declining in 2012, “a modest comeback but still a comeback,” Journal of Commerce Economist Mario O. Moreno told the 13th annual TPM Conference.
Drewry container benchmark, March 6, 2013
06 Mar 2013
Trans-Pacific eastbound spot container rates fell 5.7 percent in the week ending March 6, the second consecutive week of significant declines.


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.