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 Jul 2017
West Coast rates have already fallen behind the spot rates in mid-July last year.
14 Mar 2013
Backhaul east-west container rates were flat this week in the Europe-to-Asia and trans-Pacific westbound lanes, according to the latest release of the World Container Index.
14 Mar 2013
Chief negotiators at the end of the 16th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership talks reported they had achieved their goal to put the negotiations on an accelerated track...
14 Mar 2013
The Federal Maritime Commission’s commissioners have voted to allow a new agreement with the G6 Alliance to go into effect, permitting the six carriers to deploy more than 50 ships in the trans-Pacific trade, particularly increasing the frequency of vessel port calls on the U.S. East Coast.
Fully laden container ship sails under Golden Gate Bridge
13 Mar 2013
Slack U.S. import demand and too much vessel capacity undermined most of the general rate increase that container carriers implemented on Jan. 15, sending average spot freight rates in the eastbound trans-Pacific trade down this week, the third consecutive week of decline.
Drewry Container Rate Benchmark - spot rates through March 13, 2013. Source: Drewry's Container Freight Rate Insight.
13 Mar 2013
Trans-Pacific eastbound spot container rates fell 1.6 percent in the week ending March 13, the third consecutive week of 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.


The industry has needed consolidation for years, said Maersk Line North America President and CEO Michael White.