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

21 Sep 2016
Growth in trans-Pacific volumes has been fairly static this year for non-vessel-operating common carriers, but consolidation, new alliances, and Hanjin’s collapse present new opportunities.
Maersk Line CEO Soren Skou at TPM Conference, keynote speaker
05 Mar 2013
View the complete video of the opening keynote address by Maersk Lines's CEO Søren Skou at TPM 2013. In his speech he unveils Maersk's "Customer Charter," whereby the carrier will release metrics on various elements of customer service, including documentation accuracy.
BNSF Railway CEO and Chairman Matt Rose at TPM 2013.
05 Mar 2013
BNSF Railway CEO and Chairman Matt Rose said Monday the western railroad expects modest volume growth in 2012 but said the U.S. needs to spend more to prepare for a surge of freight growth expected over the next decade.
05 Mar 2013
There will be a net overcapacity of at least 6 percent in the eastbound Pacific this year, but if carriers take the proper actions at the right times to match capacity with demand, they may be able to avoid a ruinous rate war for the second year in a row, according to an industry analyst.
05 Mar 2013
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Beneficial cargo owners still have too many concerns about long-term index-linked contracts to abandon the long-established model of negotiating annual freight contracts with ocean carriers, a panel on the new instruments was told at the TPM Conference in Long Beach on Monday.
Rick Smith
04 Mar 2013
Ocean shippers worry that the advent of ultra-large container ships on the trans-Pacific trade will extend transit times of their imports and lead to more problems in the pickup of containers at port terminals.

Commentary

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.