April 2024 U.S. Container Imports Grow 3% Over March and 9.3% Over the Same Period Last Year 

by | May 16, 2024 | Trade Data

In April 2024, global trade data tracked by Descartes Datamyne™ shows that U.S. container imports increased 3% from March and outpaced the same period last year by 9.3% compared to the same period last year. Notably, Chinese imports rebounded after their March decline

Key Takeaways from March 2024 

  • U.S. container import volumes increased by 3.0% compared to March, reaching 2,208,849 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). 
  • Year-over-year import volume gained 9.3%. 
  • After a decline in March, Chinese imports regained ground, reaching volumes seen in April 2023. 
  • Port transit delays continued to decrease across major ports. 
  • Despite strong U.S. imports, concerns persist about global supply chain disruptions due to ongoing issues at the Panama and Suez Canals, labor negotiations, Middle East conflicts, and the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse.  

In April 2024, port transit delays continued to improve for all top ports except for the Port of Norfolk, VA, which increased slightly over March. Descartes’ May logistics metrics update reflects results consistent with a strong and resilient economy. However, threats to the stability of global trade persist with ongoing issues at the Panama and Suez Canals, upcoming labor negotiations at U.S. South Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports, and Middle East conflicts. 

U.S. Container Imports Gained Volume in Year-Over-Year Comparison  

April 2024 volumes increased by 0.4% to 2,145,341 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) (see Figure 1). Compared to April 2023, TEU volume rose by 9.3%. However, the effects of the 2024 Chinese Lunar Year influenced March’s volumes, inflating growth for the month while softening import growth in April. When compared to pre-pandemic April 2019, volume was up 15.1%. 

Figure 1: U.S. Container Import Volume Year-over-Year Comparison  

Global trade data representing year-over-year U.S. container imports as of April 2024.

 Source: Descartes Datamyne™ 

April Port Transit Delays Shorten 

Transit delays at major ports in April 2024 continued to improve, according to Descartes Datamyne global trade data, with notable decreases recorded across most top ports (refer to Figure 2). However, Norfolk, VA experienced slight increases in delay averages compared to March. Notably, the Port of Tacoma, WA witnessed the most significant decline in delays, reducing by 2.8 days, followed by Houston, TX with a decrease of 1.7 days.  

Figure 2: Monthly Average Transit Delays (in days) at the Top 10 Ports 

April 2024 U.S. container import transit delays (in days) at top 10 ports.

Source: Descartes Datamyne™ 

Note: Descartes’ definition of port transit delay is the difference as measured in days between the Estimated Arrival Date, which is initially declared on the bill of lading, and the date when Descartes receives the CBP-processed bill of lading. 

Panama Canal Maintenance Work and Capacity Changes 

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced May maintenance work at the Gatun locks, reducing capacity to 17 slots per day from 20. Following the work, total transit slots will improve from 24 to 32 while water levels continue to improve, reducing the impact of the drought which has constrained capacity. Transit capacity for the Panama Canal will still be short of the normal operating capacity of 36 slots. 

War in the Middle East Continues to put Global Supply Chain at Risk 

Houthi attacks and threats on shipping in the Red Sea continues to divert cargo from the Suez Canal through longer, more expensive shipping lanes. Shipping will worsen if the war escalates and further destabilizes the region.  

Managing Supply Chain Risks with Global Shipping Data 

Trade data from April 2024 shows that U.S. container import volumes are up from March 2024 and over volumes from the previous year. Overall port transit times in April improved compared to March delays.  The ACP announced scheduled maintenance work for May that will temporarily reduce transit slots, and tensions in the Middle East are stressing global supply chains with the threat of further disruption throughout 2024. Descartes will continue to highlight key Descartes Datamyne, U.S. government and industry data in the coming months to provide insight into global shipping.  

To mitigate risks related to the current state of the global supply chain, shippers and logistics providers have strategies they can deploy, including using global trade and shipping data to mitigate supply chain risk with the key objective of keeping their international business healthy and growing, and maintaining a satisfied customer base. These strategies include: 

  1. Short-term: Monitor the Port of Baltimore’s post-Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse impact on East Coast container imports. Track the Panama Canal’s drought impact on shipping capacity and routes. Monitor Middle East conflicts for shipping diversions. Assess COVID variant spread for supply chain disruptions. Evaluate ocean shipments for timeliness. Assess inflation and conflicts for logistics costs. Evaluate potential October 2024 International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) strike impact on ports. 
  2. Long Term: Assess supplier and factory location concentration to reduce dependence on overstretched trade routes and conflict-prone regions worldwide. While density offers economies of scale, it also increases risk, as evidenced by the pandemic and ensuing logistics capacity challenges. Given that conflicts don’t arise suddenly, it’s crucial to address this potentially disruptive issue proactively. 

The aim is to implement strategies to address both present and upcoming challenges. Through continuous assessment of potential trade lane disruptions and careful evaluation of geopolitical landscapes, businesses can maintain operational stability. In the long run, analyzing supplier distribution helps reduce dependence on fragile routes, fostering resilience amidst changing global conditions.

How Datamyne Global Shipping Data Can Help Manage Supply Chain Risks  

Descartes Datamyne delivers global trade and shipping data with comprehensive, accurate, up to date, import information that helps U.S. importers save significant time in spotting supply and demand shifts, optimizing trade lanes, expanding into new markets, and identifying new buyers and suppliers.  

Datamyne features the world’s largest searchable global trade database covering 230 markets across five continents. Gathered directly from official filings with customs agencies and trade ministries, including bills of lading, our data is detailed (down to company names and contact details), timely and authoritative.  

Apart from providing trade intelligence via global trade and shipping data, Descartes software solutions also include a landed cost tool to calculate the economic viability of importing from a range of markets. Our applications can also screen against multiple denied parties lists simultaneously to help ensure organizations are not doing business with entities named on official government watch lists.  

This is an excerpt of an article originally posted in the Descartes Global Shipping Crisis Resource Center. If you want to learn more about how Descartes Datamyne’s global trade and shipping data can help you, Contact Us

Note: This report uses the initial compiled release of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data and is subject to revision later by CBP. The revised data can be seen in Descartes Datamyne. 

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