By Erica E. Phillips for the Wall Street Journal
"Cargo streamed into U.S. seaports at a rapid rate in June, as businesses pulled in goods in an apparent rush to stock up ahead of new tit-for-tat tariffs between the U.S. and China.
"Container imports at California’s ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., the biggest U.S. gateway for seaborne trade, rose 8.4% in June from the same month a year ago, reaching 767,059 20-foot equivalent units, a standard measure for container cargo. The growth marked an acceleration from the spring, and a booming early start to the seasonal shipping surge that typically peaks from July to September.
“'Peak season has come early, so to speak,' said Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, Calif., the nation’s second-largest container port.
"The shipping rush comes as the Trump administration begins to impose new tariffs in a burgeoning trade showdown with China, including targeted levies on $34 billion in Chinese imports and a promise of further duties on additional $216 billion in Chinese products. Industry watchers say retailers and manufacturers are bumping up orders ahead of the tariffs.
“'People are uncertain so they’re buffering,' said Lora Cecere, an analyst with research firm Supply Chain Insights. 'They haven’t really experienced this level of uncertainty before and they’re not sure what to do about it.'
"Mr. Cordero said about 70% of the Port of Long Beach’s import volume is directly related to China. Of that, about 7% would be affected by the first round of tariffs.
“'What we have for sure is anxiety in the industry,' Mr. Cordero said. 'And that’s not a good thing for international trade.'
"The Port of Oakland, another gateway for Asia trade, also reported a strong acceleration in inbound volumes, with container imports growing 8.7% year-over-year in June.
"Ms. Cecere said the rush to stock up early could cost companies later since they may not have taken the time to target the right goods to order. 'This is a supply-side solution,' she said. 'Right now I think what we’ve got is a very reactionary response.'
"Exports at the neighboring Southern California ports were up 7.2% in June to 282,371 TEUs. Through the first half of the year, combined imports and exports at Los Angeles and Long Beach rose a 4.1% from the same period last year.