West Coast Container Ports Regain Some Market Share with Labor Situation Resolved

U.S. container import volumes increased slightly in August compared to the previous, consistent pre-pandemic peak-season patterns, according to Descartes Systems Group’s September Global Shipping Report.

The report shows that U.S. container import volumes in August 2023 rose by 0.4% from July 2023, totaling 2,196,268 TEUs. Compared to August 2022, TEU volume decreased by 13.2%, but increased by 2.5% from pre-pandemic August 2019 levels. Overall, the growth in import volume during the first eight months of 2023 is within 2.1% of the same period in 2019.

Despite the volume increase, August’s port transit times remained close to their lowest level since Descartes began tracking them.

Meanwhile, with the ILWU ratifying its labor agreement at West Coast ports, ports there have regained some market share lost over the past year. Last month, the top West Coast ports saw a significant increase in volume, driven by increases at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which both showed the greatest overall container volume increases. This resulted in West Coast ports’ increasing its share of total import container volume to 41.9%, up 3.6% from the previous month. In comparison, the top East and Gulf Coast ports saw a decrease in share to 43.1%, down 3.3% from the previous month, with the Ports of New York/New Jersey and Savannah experiencing the greatest decreases.

While the Panama drought is impacting some types of shipping, Descartes’ report shows that U.S. container imports do not appear to be affected to date, with volumes at the Gulf ports over the last two months have been at their highest levels this year.

The September update also shows U.S. container imports continued consistency with 2019 results amid signs that key challenges to global supply chain performance have stabilized.

“In August, U.S. import container volume flattened and is still relatively consistent with the peak season patterns we would see pre-pandemic,” said Chris Jones, EVP Industry Descartes. “While the drought in Panama is affecting some shipping traffic, U.S. container import volumes do not appear to be impacted as volumes at the Gulf ports over the last two months have been at their highest levels this year and transit times have been consistently low.”

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