More gains seen for China container imports: Report

More gains seen for China container imports: Report

LOS ANGELES -- Fueled by the continuing shift of manufacturing to China, container volumes in the eastbound Pacific will register more strong gains this year, according to Trade Horizons, a sister publication of The Journal of Commerce.

The publication's latest estimates peg combined containerized imports from northeast and southeast Asia at 3.8 percent higher, to 9.45 million TEUs, year-over-year. The earlier winter report surprised the ocean carrier industry by projecting only a 1.8 percent increase.

Trade Horizons boosted its projection in the spring issue based on strong cargo volumes in the eastbound Pacific in March, a healthier-than-anticipated first quarter and the relentless shift of manufacturing to China.

March in fact was an especially strong month in the eastbound Pacific, with import gateways such as Long Beach registering a 31 percent increase; Los Angeles, 14 percent; Tacoma, 14 percent and Savannah, 18 percent.

That capped an uneven first quarter, as imports rose in January, then fell in February. According to the Pacific Maritime Association, containerized imports through all West Coast ports increased 8.9 percent in the first quarter. West Coast ports handle about 78 percent of all U.S. containerized imports from Asia.

First-quarter results fall within shipping lines' estimates of increased import traffic of 8 percent to 10 percent for the full year. Vessel capacity in the Pacific is also projected to increase about 10 percent.

Except during the recession of 2001, when imports from Asia increased only 1.1 percent, cargo volumes in the eastbound Pacific have increased at least 8 percent each year since the late 1990s, dominated by China trade.

Trade Horizons noted that imports of manufactured goods from China increased 13 percent in 2003, accounting for 54 percent of the growth in the total U.S. market.

Imports from the Indian subcontinent also increased dramatically last year, but from a much smaller base, up 18 percent to 606,000 TEUs. Imports from China, by comparison, increased 13 percent to 4.6 million TEUs.

In addition to bellwether products such as toys, footwear and wearing apparel, China is expanding rapidly into other product segments including air conditioners, leather products, sheets and towels, medical equipment, stoves and heaters, Trade Horizons stated.