Mark Segner, vice president of global sales with Descartes Datamyne, delves into the findings of the firm’s latest report on the top 30 ports in the U.S.
The latest report shows a significant shift in U.S. import sources away from China and toward select countries in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam and Thailand, with increases of more than 100% and 60%, respectively, in U.S. maritime import volumes since 2016. Smaller increases were seen in imports from Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan. Meanwhile, Japan experienced an 18% decline in imports to the U.S. since 2018.
China has undergone “an interesting ride,” showing an 8% drop in import volumes from 2018 to 2020. Measuring volumes since 2016 to now, however, reveals a 9% increase. “It’s a nuanced story with COVID-19 at the center of it,” Segner says.
The numbers reveal a long-term modification in sourcing strategy by U.S. importers. The trend began after the imposition of tariffs on Chinese-sourced goods by the Trump Administration, Segner says. He traces a direct correlation between certain items that were subjected to those tariffs, and their shift to Southeast Asia. But regardless of where in Asia those imports are currently being sourced, they’ve had to contend with severe congestion at U.S. ports, especially in Southern California. In February of this year, there were approximately 40 ships waiting to dock and unload cargo. The number had declined to around 20 by April, but that’s still far greater than the typical backlog of zero to three or four vessels in the past.
Segner sees a “paradigm shift” by U.S. exporters in response to current conditions, as they move away from “just-in-time” strategies that minimize safety stock, and beef up inventories in anticipation of future disruptions in supply lines.
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