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April imports from Asia down from March but still impressive

Fueled by e-commerce sales, US imports from Asia are projected to remain high for the rest of the year. Photo caption:

US imports from Asia increased 29.3 percent in April from the same month in 2020, the 10th consecutive month of year-over-year growth since the US economy reopened last summer from initial COVID-19 lockdowns and the busiest April on record.


April's imports from Asia totaled 1.55 million TEU. That is down slightly from the blowout 1.72 million TEU in March, but still up 25.7 percent from April 2019, the latest available comparison not skewed by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to PIERS, a sister company within IHS Markit. March, normally one of the slowest months of year as factories in Asia reopen after annual Lunar New Year celebrations, uncharacteristically registered the highest monthly US import volume from Asia ever<>.

Retailers and freight forwarders say the current level of imports is not an anomaly, but rather, is likely to be the new baseline going forward. In past years, imports from Asia followed seasonal retail trends tied to the back-to-school, holiday, and spring shopping seasons. Import volumes have been more constant month to month this past year owing to a surge in consumer goods spending, particularly online shopping.

US West Coast ports benefiting from Chinese imports

Imports from China in April increased 38.3 percent from April 2020, compared to the 29.3 percent increase in imports from all of Asia. Since October, US imports from China have grown faster each month from China than from all of Asia. This is contributing to growing import volumes at West Coast ports, which are best positioned for the China trade owing to the shorter distances in the trans-Pacific.

East Coast ports, which are better positioned for imports from Southeast Asia moving on all-water services through the Suez Canal, saw their market share of imports from Asia during the first four months of 2021 drop to 33 percent from 35.2 percent during the same period in 2020. Gulf Coast ports' market share decreased to 5.2 percent from 5.4 percent in 2020, while the West Coast's share of US imports from Asia increased to 61.4 percent from 59.1 percent in January through April 2020, according to PIERS.

Carriers this year have launched new services from Asia to Oakland, the Northwest Seaport Alliance of Seattle and Tacoma, and Savannah to relieve some of the congestion<> that has built up at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach because of the elevated import volumes.

Nevertheless, imports from Asia in the Los Angeles-Long Beach gateway in January through April totaled 3.1 million TEU. That was an increase of 46 percent from the same period last year, the fastest growth rate of any of the top 10 busiest ports for Asian imports, which registered year-over-year volume increases of 24.4 percent to 40.3 percent in the first four months of 2021, according to PIERS.

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